Battle emerges between Biden administration and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over migrant arrivals, COVID-19 testing

A consequential rift over COVID-19 safety for migrants has persisted between the Biden administration and the state of Texas as a growing number of families attempt to cross the southern border and remain in the U.S.

Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has delayed funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to test and possibly quarantine migrant families, according to a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson. The decision flies in the face of agreements made between DHS and local mayors and health officials, which stipulated that 100% of COVID-19 testing would be covered.

Renae Eze, the governor’s press secretary, suggested there were “strings attached” to the funding that required new efforts from the state to conduct border security.

“The federal government alone has the responsibility to test, screen, and quarantine illegal immigrants crossing our border who may have COVID,” Eze said in a statement. “The Biden Administration continues to pressure Texas to assist them in aiding their illegal immigration program … We are focused on doing our job — protecting Texans.”

PHOTO: Baja California state health workers question a woman at a makeshift camp for migrants seeking asylum in the United States at the border crossing, March 12, 2021, in Tijuana, Mexico.

A record-setting increase of migrant families at the southern border continues to challenge the Biden administration as officials claim they’re implementing more humane policies than their predecessors.

Nearly 20,000 family members were stopped at the border last month, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. While many were immediately removed, the majority of them have undergone immigration processing in the U.S.

The influx is particularly severe in the Rio Grande Valley region of South Texas. Immigration officials there have resorted to flying migrants to other parts of the state, including Laredo, Del Rio and El Paso, according to CBP.

The new arrivals combined with the lack of funding to test and, if needed, isolate migrants due to COVID-19 is a chief concern for Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas.

“Not only did he reject that funding, but then he turned around and went on Fox News and other cable networks and said immigrants are bringing disease like COVID into our country — fueling racism, xenophobia, using the kind of language that we know only too well is dangerous, and very consequential,” Escobar said.

PHOTO: Texas Governor Greg Abbott delivers an announcement on March 2, 2021, in Lubbock, Texas. Abbott announced that he is rescinding executive orders that limit capacities for businesses and the state wide mask mandate.

Abbott has placed blame for the situation at the border squarely on the Biden administration.

“The Biden administration has created a crisis at our southern border through open border policies that give the green light to dangerous cartels and other criminal activity,” the governor said at a news conference earlier this week. “Border security is the federal government’s responsibility, but the state of Texas will not allow the administration’s failures to endanger the lives of innocent Texans.”

No evidence currently exists that migrants at the border are significant vectors for the novel coronavirus, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

Abbott did not respond to a request for comment by ABC News on the funding delays. CNN first reported the news.

A senior official who declined to be named in order to discuss procedures and planning said Friday the Biden administration is attempting to go around the governor and work directly with municipalities.

“It’s been more difficult because of the state of Texas’ inability — or unwillingness — so far to cooperate with us,” the official said.

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