On the edge of the Rio Grande in South Texas, the sprawling Anzalduas Park has long been a popular spot for birding, family picnics, and fishing. But earlier this month, the large area with barbecues and tables was closed, turned into a large Covid-19 quarantine field for immigrants arriving from Mexico.
Several buses drop passengers off in a large circular pavilion, where tattered families line up, waiting to be tested for coronaviruses. People with a confirmed diagnosis should stay in the field, often with their families, until they are free from the virus.
This week, at least 1,000 immigrants were in the camp erected by the nearby town of McAllen as an emergency measure to contain the spread of the virus beyond the southwestern border of the United States. About a thousand more are in quarantine in other locations in the Rio Grande Valley, some in hotel rooms paid for by a private charity.
South Texas cities, the busiest border crossings, are now a spooky place, where two international crises intersect: a growing wave of immigrants and the rise of the Delta variant, forcing city leaders and non-governmental organizations to strengthen testing and quarantine. operations while the border patrol continues to avoid testing newly arrived immigrants.
Amid the ferocious resurgence of coronavirus infections in many parts of the United States, some conservative politicians, including the governors of Texas and Florida, have criticized President Joe Biden’s government for failing to put the brakes on it. influx of immigrants, which would lead to an increase in the number. case.
In fact, the massive operation at McAllen and others like it makes this extremely unlikely, and public health officials and local elected officials note that the region was already facing a growing number of cases before the increase. border crossings.
“We cannot attribute the highest number of Covid to immigrants,” said McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos. City and county officials, he said, released a statement on the disaster on August 2 and moved to set up a quarantine center after it became clear that the increase in the number border crossings posed a health risk to local residents.
Of the 96,808 immigrants who passed through McAllen this year and were tested for the coronavirus, 8,559 tested positive on Tuesday (10). But the prevalence of the virus among immigrants has so far not been higher than among the American population, according to medical experts. The highest positivity rates in the country are not found in border communities, but especially in areas with low vaccination rates and no mask required.
The positive rate among immigrants served by Catholic Charities in McAllen reached 14.8% in early August — after fluctuating between 5% and 8% from late March to early July — but it did not exceed the index of local residents. In Hidalgo County, positivity among immigrants was around 16% last week, compared to 17.59% among residents, who had little or no interaction with immigrants.
“Is this an immigrant pandemic? No, it’s an unvaccinated pandemic,” Iván Meléndez, head of Hidalgo’s health department, said at a press conference last week.
The increase in the number of cases has filled local shelters, where families often stay long enough to shower, rest and book trips to destinations across the country. Nun Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities in the Rio Grande Valley, which runs a shelter in downtown McAllen that can accommodate 1,200 immigrants, said she had to sound the alarm last week because the border patrol was pushing too many people out of the gate. from the refuge. “I said to the mayor, ‘I need help,'” she said. “We’ve never seen so many people before.”
“The problem wasn’t that a larger percentage of families were positive for Covid-19,” Pimentel said. “It was because the number that came in was so high that there were more positives among them.”
McAllen’s council of councilors voted within an hour to house the immigrants in tents on the town’s grounds, causing a strong reaction from some residents. The tent shelter was quickly moved to Parque Anzalduas, away from the urban center.
Since last year, Catholic Charities has been testing immigrant families for the virus immediately after their release by the Border Patrol and isolating those who test positive at its downtown shelter. In February, as arrivals increased, she began sending families to hotels.
The problem erupted in late July after a resident of the nearby town of La Joya called police to report an immigrant family who appeared to have symptoms of Covid and were dining at a restaurant. The property is a 3-minute walk from the Texas Inn, where the family was staying, according to Police Sgt. Ismael Garza.
It soon became known that the hotel was one of many in the valley that were quarantining many other immigrants also attacked by the virus. “We posted this on Facebook, and then you already know…” Garza said, his voice dejected. The post, titled “Covid-19 Alert,” said officers were unaware of immigrants who tested positive were in the hotel, and commented that 20 to 30 of them had been observed “walking around, la most without mask “. Soon, Fox News arrived on the scene.
On a recent afternoon, the doors to all rooms at the two-story La Joya hotel were closed. The pool was empty. A man sitting in a blue Volkswagen in front of the building said his job was to make sure no immigrants left the room. Food was dropped off at bedroom doors three times a day, he said.
Hotel owner Sam Patel said around 15 rooms were occupied by migrants with the virus, half the original number. A nurse visited them twice a week, he explained. “Everything is safe.”
The location of hotels that welcome immigrants was not disclosed, and Vilma Ayala, 60, said she stayed overnight at one o’clock, but only later realized that many of the guests were immigrants with Covid .
“They didn’t tell us they were using this hotel for people with Covid,” said Ayala, who had not been vaccinated. She said she was suspicious when she saw food being delivered to several rooms. He asked for reimbursement of the daily rate and got it.