Over 20 percent of illegal immigrant unaccompanied minors and 18 percent of family units who recently crossed the U.S.-Mexico border have tested positive for COVID-19 prior to being released from U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody over the last several weeks, according to a Department of Homeland Security document prepared for President Joe Biden and reviewed by NBC News Saturday.
The document also said some flights being used to deport illegal immigrants had over 25 percent of the passengers test positive before leaving, forcing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to remove the sick illegal immigrants and place them in quarantine.
“In the last 2-3 weeks, the percent positivity rates among all demographics has increased,” the document says.
The DHS document did not include exact dates or the actual number of illegal immigrants who were tested. Officials said illegal immigrants are not tested while in Border Patrol custody unless they show symptoms, but all are tested before leaving CBP custody.
Agency data obtained by NBC News revealed that as of Wednesday, over 15,000 illegal immigrants are in Border Patrol custody. Homeland Security officials also noted that illegal immigrants who test positive by ICE are quarantined and their deportation is stalled.
The document recommended that DHS provide additional medical staffing at processing centers, highlighting the Rio Grande Valley facility where just three EMT’s oversee 3,000 illegal immigrants.
A second document said the high positivity rates are “straining the capacity of the NGO’s and local government that DHS currently partners with to care for them.”
According to the document, the rise in cases among illegal immigrants is largely attributed to “the highly transmissible Delta variant combined with lengthier stays in crowded [Customs and Border Protection] facilities.”
Two sources familiar with the situation said the skyrocketing rates have prompted emergency meetings between the White House, Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security.
“DHS and CBP takes its responsibility to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and other diseases very seriously,” a White House spokesperson said in a statement. “CBP provides migrants who can’t be expelled…or are awaiting processing with PPE from the moment they are taken into custody, and migrants are required to keep masks on at all times, including when they are transferred or in the process of being released.”
“If anyone exhibits signs of illness in CBP custody, they are referred to local health systems for appropriate testing, diagnosis, isolation and treatment,” the spokesperson continued.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden’s DHS is not vaccinating illegal immigrants, but “other international organizations” are vaccinating them as they cross the border.
When asked about how the Biden administration’s measures are keeping people safe in places like McAllen, Texas, where 7,000 COVID-positive illegal immigrants have been released since February, including 1,500 in the last week, Psaki responded, “Well, I think it’s important to note what’s actually happening in McAllen. So, there’s actually been a — they signed a disaster declaration, approved setting up a temporary emergency shelter to provide a space — to create an isolated space to mitigate this issue.”