Republican lawmakers are claiming a large percentage of migrants at crowded southern border facilities are testing positive for COVID-19.
CapRadio’s PolitiFact California reporter Chris Nichols spoke with afternoon anchor Mike Hagerty about that and other claims in this week’s Can You Handle The Truth segment.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
On what is happening at the southern border
In recent months, there’s been a really big wave of migration. Border patrol agents have recorded more than half a million encounters with migrants since October. That’s nearly three times as many in the same period a year earlier.
So, conditions are very crowded at border detention centers, and some Republican members of Congress are claiming that crowding is leading to the rapid spread of COVID-19.
Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma recently visited a border detention center in Donna, Texas and posted a video on Twitter with some claims:
“We have a large percentage of folks here that are COVID positive,” Lankford said. “But they’re not tested here for several days. So, they’re literally spreading it all around. And they’re released into HHS custody and into the rest of the country.”
On the veracity of those claims
PolitiFact found there is no definitive answer available since there are different categories of migrants being tested at different times and by varying groups across the border.
But back in March, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency told lawmakers that the positivity rates for people coming across the border at the time was less than 6%. For some comparison, the average positivity rate in Texas was above 7% at that time.
On testing migrants for COVID-19 and who is doing it
Immigration authorities said they are working with state and local authorities and non-governmental groups to make sure that all migrants are tested “at some point during their immigration journey.”
Federal health officials say that the many unaccompanied minors who have arrived are tested every three days — those who test positive are isolated from the rest.
Customs and Border Protection personnel do initial checks for symptoms, and they consult with onsite medical staff. People who are presumed to be sick are sent to local health systems for testing, diagnosis and treatment, according to immigration officials.
Cities, counties and nonprofits handle the vast majority of the testing and any subsequent isolation.
On the work of nonprofit groups
They told PolitiFact that many of these people who have had to remain in Mexico are being tested for COVID-19 in that country. Then they are tested again in the United States and remain in hotel rooms while awaiting results.
On the claim that Vice President Kamala Harris broke protocol after boarding Air Force Two and did not return salutes to members of the military honor guard
PolitiFact found that while presidents and vice presidents saluting the military personnel is a familiar sight, it’s not part of any official protocol or regulation.
Ronald Reagan was the first president to do this, but before then, even military veterans such as Dwight Eisenhower did not do this while president.
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