BROWNSVILLE, Texas — Miriam Izaguirre, a 35-year-old asylum-seeker from Honduras, crossed the Rio Grande at dawn Monday with her young son and turned herself in to the authorities.
A few hours later she was released, and the first thing she did was take a rapid test for Covid-19 at the Brownsville bus station. They told her her test came out positive.
"Right now we were tested for Covid and they separated about eight of us because we were positive," she told Noticias Telemundo Investiga. "We are waiting right now." She was waiting to catch a bus to Houston.
Other migrant families who also said they had tested positive were waiting to go to other destinations: North Carolina, Maryland and New Jersey.
The city of Brownsville administers these rapid tests at the bus station, after migrant families are released by the Border Patrol. A spokesperson for Brownsville confirmed that, since they began doing these tests Jan. 25, 108 migrants have tested positive for Covid-19, which is 6.3 percent of those who took the test.
In response to Noticias Telemundo Investiga, a spokesperson for the city said in an email that Brownsville does not have the authority to retain these migrants who plan to travel to dozens of cities throughout the country. The city assured that municipal workers recommend to those who test positive to keep quarantine as indicated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The city employees suggest to families they go to nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and nonprofits in the the border area who can take them in and isolate them in order to keep quarantine.
"The City of Brownsville continues to follow all guidelines provided by the CDC and DSHS for Covid-19. The migrants who test positive at the B-Metro facility are advised of quarantine procedures and are asked to socially distance," Felipe Romero, Brownsville's communications and marketing director, said in an emailed statement. DSHS refers to the state's Department of State Health Services.
"There are several NGOs providing resources to a positive case," the email states. "For example, organizations help with quarantine either in a shelter or at hotel. Since the City started testing the migrants on January 25, there has been 6.3% of positive cases. The Cameron County positivity rate is 13.8%."
Several of the asylum-seekers who tested positive told Noticias Telemundo Investiga they were planning to leave Brownsville for their destinations; one of them bought a bus ticket for the journey.
Eva Orellana, 29, who is from Honduras and who tested positive, said she was going to take the bus to North Carolina with her 3-year-old daughter. "On the way, we were wearing a mask all the time, gel, washing our hands," she said. "Really, I don't feel anything."
Those who tested positive and spoke to Telemundo did not have any document indicating their Covid-19 test results; they said they were simply told by the station workers after taking the test.
They said the station workers told them to wait in a different waiting area than the rest of the migrant families, but they still had freedom to move, a few meters from the rest.
Noticias Telemundo Investiga asked Customs and Border Patrol about the release of migrant families and Covid-19 testing. A spokesperson said in an email that CBP personnel conduct initial inspections for symptoms or risk factors associated with Covid-19 and consult as appropriate with onsite medical personnel, the CDC or local health systems.
Suspected Covid-19 cases "are referred to local health systems for appropriate testing, diagnosis, and treatment," according to CBP.
At the station, Martín Fernández, an Omnibus Express worker, said that the bus company where he works respects the protocols of federal authorities: passengers must wear masks on board the vehicle and use hand sanitizer gel. But they cannot, he clarified, ask passengers for Covid-19 tests before getting on buses.
For years, bus stations have been at the the epicenter of the arrival of migrants to the border. Different administrations have released tens of thousands of immigrant families in these buildings and, from there, they buy tickets to reach the residences of their relatives in the United States.
They are long routes, sometimes lasting days, crossing the country from station to station. Migrants are usually released with a permit called "parole" or under supervision with an ankle monitor. Once they are at their new destinations, they continue their asylum processes to try to stay in the United States.
The last few weeks has seen an increase in the number of families who have been allowed to enter the U.S. and continue their quest for asylum, as Noticias Telemundo Investiga has verified.