Authorities in southern Texas said Tuesday they have learned that illegal immigrants who may have tested positive for COVID-19 were released from federal custody to a Catholic charity that reserved hotel rooms for them without notifying local officials.
La Joya police said a patrol officer was waved down Monday by someone concerned about a group who appeared to be ill at a Whataburger fast food restaurant. The officer found a family inside who was coughing and sneezing and did not comply with health guidelines, including the use of masks, authorities said during a news conference.
One manager told the officer they wanted people to leave the company because they made everyone inside “uneasy.” When the officer approached the migrants, they said they had tested positive for coronavirus and had been arrested by Border Patrol agents several days before they were released.
They had no evidence to prove they were COVID-positive, Police Director La Joya. Said Manuel Casas.
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“We did not know this,” he said. “Nobody told the town of La Joya. Nobody told the police that these people were here, and nobody told us that these people might be sick.”
The immigrants told the officer they were staying at the nearby Texas Inn & Suites. The hotel manager told authorities that the Catholic charities in the Rio Grande Valley had reserved rooms at the hotel to house undocumented migrants detained by the Border Patrol.
“We have an understanding based on what we were told that the hotel as a whole is already rented out,” Casas said. “The information we have is that everyone staying at this hotel is COVID-19 positive because they are rented out to them.”
At the hotel, officers observed 20 to 30 people outside wearing no masks, police said in a post on social media. The use of masks is not required, but those exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms should wear one, Casas said.
He said the department could not prevent any of the migrants from leaving the hotel and moving on to another destination in the United States.
Police later learned that those detained by Border Patrol who showed symptoms or who were infected with COVID-19 were quarantined and then handed over to the charity group to be placed in hotels in the McAllen area as well as La Joya, police said.
In a statement to Fox News, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the Rio Grande Valley sector has encountered “a significant number of undocumented migrants crossing the border.”
“In these challenging times, our federal, state and local partnerships are indispensable as we work to secure our borders and quickly move individuals out of USBP custody and through the appropriate immigration path,” the spokesman said.
Officials contacted the Hidalgo County Department of Health and Human Services, who said they would investigate the matter.
Fox News has reached out to the Catholic charity group. Casas acknowledged that the charity was trying to help the migrants and may have been overwhelmed when they booked the hotel rooms.
An employee at the hotel refused to give his name, but told Fox News that there were undocumented migrants at the hotel, but he was not sure how many.
“There are so many people trying to help,” he said. “We have no problems here (with COVID-19).”
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In response to the news, city officials are asking the public to adhere to social distancing measures and wear masks.
Illegal border crossings have increased during the Biden administration. U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently announced that there were nearly 190,000 immigrant encounters at the southern border in June. The total number of meetings for the financial year peaked at 1 million according to the figures.
On Tuesday, the Texas government, Gregg Abbott, ordered a Republican, the Texas National Guard, to help the state Department of Public Safety arrest arrests in connection with the border.