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FEMA official says COVID-19 positivity rate among migrants is 6 percent

FEMA official says COVID-19 positivity rate among migrants is 6 percent
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The acting chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said Tuesday that under 6 percent of immigrants at the southern border have tested positive for the coronavirus amid growing alarm among Republicans over a spike in crossings.

"There's testing happening," acting FEMA Administrator Robert Fenton said during a hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security. "What we're seeing is less than 6 percent positive right now, coming across the border." 

The remarks come amid a sharp spike in attempted border crossings.

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The Biden administration has continued the Trump administration’s policy of turning away migrant adults and families at the border out of concern over the spreading of the coronavirus, though unaccompanied minors have been allowed into the country.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasHillicon Valley: Facebook Oversight board to rule on Trump ban in 'coming weeks' | Russia blocks Biden Cabinet officials in retaliation for sanctions Russia blocks key Biden Cabinet officials from entering in retaliation for sanctions Progressive lawmakers press DHS chief on immigration detention MORE said in a statement Tuesday morning that the number of attempted crossings at the U.S. southern border is expected to reach its highest level in two decades.

“We are expelling most single adults and families. We are not expelling unaccompanied children. We are securing our border, executing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) public health authority to safeguard the American public and the migrants themselves, and protecting the children. We have more work to do,” Mayorkas said.

Republicans have seized on the swell of migrants looking to cross the border, accusing President BidenJoe BidenFour members of Sikh community among victims in Indianapolis shooting Overnight Health: NIH reverses Trump's ban on fetal tissue research | Biden investing .7B to fight virus variants | CDC panel to meet again Friday on J&J On The Money: Moderates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats | Justice Dept. sues Trump ally Roger Stone for unpaid taxes MORE of adopting lax immigration policies that could fuel coronavirus outbreaks. 

"The Biden Administration is recklessly releasing hundreds of illegal immigrants who have COVID into Texas communities," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) tweeted earlier this month. "The Biden Admin. must IMMEDIATELY end this callous act that exposes Texans & Americans to COVID."

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However, the rate of infection among immigrants at the border is lower than in Texas, where the positivity rate is 13.33 percent, according to a tracker by Johns Hopkins University. 

Migrants who are allowed to cross the border are first tested for the coronavirus. As many as 25,000 people who are awaiting an immigration court hearing were previously forced to remain in Mexico during the Trump administration. 

Fenton said Tuesday that "anyone that is at risk can be tested by local or state government and FEMA reimburses those costs 100%," and that FEMA is supporting testing programs in Arizona, California and Texas. 

The coronavirus fears are only one aspect of the explosion in attempted border crossings. The Biden administration has come under fierce fire from Democrats as well over the conditions in which unaccompanied children are held, though officials have maintained they are working to rebuild the immigration system after broad changes during the Trump years.

“We are also and critically sending an important message that now is not the time to come to the border,” Mayorkas said Tuesday on “Good Morning America.”

“Give us the time to rebuild the system that was entirely dismantled in the prior administration and we have in fact begun to rebuild that system,” he added.