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House Republicans press Trump officials on plans to contain coronavirus at border

Greg Nash

A group of House Republican lawmakers is calling on the Trump administration to provide information on how it plans to prevent a coronavirus outbreak at the border.

In a letter led by Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), the lawmakers pressed the departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Health and Human Services (HHS) and Defense (DOD) on what steps the administration is taking to prevent the spread of the disease in border states and in detention centers.

“Given the porous nature of our border, and the continued lack of operational control due to the influence of dangerous cartels, it is foreseeable, indeed predictable, that any outbreak in Central America or Mexico could cause a rush to our border,” they wrote to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday.

“Though today there are no major outbreaks of COVID-19 in Mexico, South, or Central America, there is at least one travel-related case in Brazil, and it can be presumed that we will see the virus spread further,” they noted. “Over time, this could impose a new burden at our southern border that will threaten the safety and health of individuals in the United States and could cause a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions along our border and at detention facilities.”

The Trump administration has faced increasing scrutiny over its plan to combat the coronavirus, with President Trump earlier this week naming Vice President Pence to lead the administration’s coronavirus response as part of an effort to boost public confidence amid the spreading disease. Pence on Thursday bolstered the coronavirus response team, adding a career health official to coordinate the effort.

In their letter on Friday, House conservatives emphasized that preemptive steps must be taken to contain the virus at the southern border and screen “legal and illegal entrants” to the U.S. for the disease, adding they believe the “non-secure” border is a liability.

Just last month, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) apprehended 36,679 people at the southern border, and in fiscal 2019, the agency encountered almost 900,000 people, the House Republicans noted.

“Considering that the Department of Homeland Security already has its hands full caring for migrants that have not previously carried the COVID-19, we are seeking an understanding of what steps DHS, HHS, and DoD are taking to be prepared to contain the virus while also maintaining law and order, especially if an outbreak happens in areas from or through which migrants historically have come to the United States,” they wrote.

The group requested answers on what the federal agencies are doing, beyond airport screenings, to ensure individuals coming into the country aren’t infected.

They questioned whether DHS and HHS have an adequate number of testing kits, if the agencies have the resources available to “handle housing and medical care for legal and illegal migrants who test positive” for coronavirus, whether CBP officers have access to protective medical gear and if facilities at the border are equipped to ensure proper quarantine procedures are in place.

The lawmakers also inquired about any resources that may be needed in a supplemental appropriations bill to provide “adequate physical barriers, all-weather roads, and any and all other resources needed to ensure the full security of our border for the protection of both American citizens and the migrants” looking to enter the country. 

The letter comes on the same day Mexico confirmed its first case of coronavirus.

Reps. Michael Cloud (Texas), Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Brian Babin (Texas), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Jody Hice (Ga.), Pete Olson (Texas), Greg Murphy (N.C.), Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Scott Perry (Pa.) and Randy Weber (Texas) joined Roy in signing the letter.

Tags Chad Wolf Chip Roy Jody Hice Louie Gohmert Mark Esper Paul Gosar Pete Olson Randy Weber Scott Perry
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