Texas lawmakers and other Republicans on Friday started sounding alarm bells about the potential spread of the deadly coronavirus across the southern border — despite there being no notable outbreak of the disease yet in Mexico, Central America or South America.
Lawmakers led by Texans have asked Trump administration cabinet members how prepared the United States is in the event a coronavirus outbreak in Latin America leads to a “rush to our border.”
“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,” the letter states. It’s signed by 10 Republicans in Congress, including U.S. Reps. Chip Roy of San Antonio, Brian Babin of Woodville, Michael Cloud, of Victoria, Louie Gohmert of Tyler, Pete Olsen of Sugar Land and Randy Weber of Friendswood.
The lawmakers concede there is no major present-day outbreak of the deadly strain in Mexico, South America or Central America but note that “it can be presumed that we will see the virus spread further.”
“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 letter states. It’s addressed to acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Department of Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
The lawmakers ask a series of questions about screenings and what the departments have planned for undocumented immigrants who cross the southern border. They also asked about potential supplemental funding for barriers, roads and other resources to secure the border. The lawmakers asked about potential needs for “housing and medical care for legal and illegal migrants” who test positive for the virus.
On Friday afternoon, Texas’ Republican U.S. senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, sent another letter to acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan with a series of their own questions.
“As southern border Senators, we are concerned about the possible spread of the coronavirus across our borders. We are similarly concerned about recent reports that the virus is spreading in Europe,” the letter, which is also signed by Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, states. “Border shortcomings by the European Union have resulted in the spread of the virus across a number of nations, and it is essential that the United States not repeat these mistakes. We write to ask how your agency is prepared to address the threat presented by the coronavirus at U.S. borders.”
Specifically, they ask how CBP is coordinating with state and local officials, if a need for emergency staffing is foreseeable and if CBP is prepared for an outbreak of the coronavirus in a detention facility.
“The H1N1 virus impacted many countries in 2009. What plans did your agency implement to try to prevent the spread of swine flu across our borders? Were these plans effective? Can you tell us whether there is any coordination underway between foreign governments and your agency?” the senators add.
The request for information comes the same day the World Health Organization raised its risk assessment to “very high” as the pneumonia-like virus continues to spread globally. Mexico has two confirmed cases, one in Mexico City and another in the state of Sinaloa, the Associated Press reported. Both are in isolation.
There are 10 confirmed cases of coronavirus, which the WHO has dubbed COVID-19, in Texas and 44 in the United States.
Of the 10 cases, two are evacuees from China and eight are evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that disembarked in Japan, said Adm. Nancy Knight from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during a Thursday press conference.
Those who may have come in contact with the coronavirus are under federal quarantine at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Air Force. Those confirmed to have the virus are in isolation off base at the Texas Center for Infectious Diseases or another local hospital.
On Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott met with state officials for a briefing on what agencies are doing to prepare for a potential spread of the virus.
“The State of Texas will continue to collaborate with our federal and local partners and will provide our communities with the necessary resources to respond to any potential cases of the coronavirus," Abbott said in a statement after the briefing.
Stacy Fernández contributed to this report.