Editor's note: The first part of this series by Todd Bensman, author of the forthcoming book "America’s Covert Border War," can be found here: "Trump Is on Point: The Covid-infected Are Fleeing Mexico…for US Hospitals."
AUSTIN, Texas – Last week, a hearse carrying the body of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Marco A. Gonzales slowly wound its way south from the Central Texas hospital where he died of Covid-19, through small towns along the way where mourners lining the roads saluted their last respects. Gonzales, to be buried in the small border city of Del Rio where he worked, was one of at least three front-line Border Patrol agents in Texas to have died of Covid in recent weeks.
Their bodies, burials, and mourning wives and children offer a powerful rebuke to a recalcitrant national media and state and federal office-holders who have largely refused to acknowledge a dangerous ongoing development in the Covid-19 pandemic life cycle. Their fates reflect that a significant percentage of the current hospitalization spikes in the border states of California, Arizona, and Texas are due to a kaleidoscope of legal and illegal border crossings by Covid-sick patients seeking U.S. treatment.
‘In the Line of Duty’ Covid Deaths Defy Current Denialism
Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan illustrated the general state of denialism during the August 6 press briefing. None of the attending national journalists reported in context the totality of his remarks confirming this Covid-importation among illegally entering immigrants, and worse, that in its fatal vortex along the Mexico-U.S. border, at least 10 CBP personnel had died “in the line of duty because of Covid.”
The nation’s top border enforcement official said his agents are encountering illegal immigrants “who know or highly suspect that they have Covid” but hire human smugglers to cross them over anyway, or climb the border wall, or enter in other ways. Under emergency pandemic control provisions of Title 42, the Border Patrol has returned 91 percent of Mexican citizens who are caught. But in line with longstanding Border Patrol Title 42 exemptions, Morgan acknowledged that agents are transporting to U.S. hospitals border crossers who are sick.
Some of the transported illegal immigrants profess that they are ill with Covid while others are found with symptoms, injured from falling off the wall, or wandering lost and dehydrated and later test positive at the hospital, Morgan explained.
"We get to them right away," Morgan said. "And we're taking them directly to the hospital and once they get to the hospital then they're being tested later and we find out they were Covid [positive]."
A relative of the deceased Agent Gonzales told me that before the husband and father died, he told his wife of transporting an illegal immigrant with obvious Covid symptoms in the Eagle Pass/Del Rio area to a nearby Texas-side hospital, then infected his whole family.
“They recovered; he didn’t,” the relative told me.
The U.S. hospital facilities to which such immigrants are taken, by the way, have become so overrun with virus patients in recent weeks that they have been transporting patients by helicopter, fixed-wing aircraft, and ambulance fleets to hospitals throughout the interiors of California, Texas, and Arizona, where all blame typically is attributed only to the lifting of lockdowns and community spread. Agent Aguilar, for instance, died in a San Antonio hospital rather than one in his home town on the border, which was overwhelmed.
Earlier, in a July 19 interview with Breitbart Texas, Morgan confirmed reporting that a broader variety of Covid patients legally fleeing across the border from collapsing Mexican hospitals also were responsible for part of the border-state hospitalization crisis. Current provisions of the March 20 federal border closure include an exemption for legal crossings for medical care.
Remarkably, national media avoided reporting another of Commissioner Morgan’s news-making assertions.
He suggested that other numbers of infected illegal migrants (40,000 were apprehended in July) were evading Border Patrol Title 42 returns "for their own economic endeavors" and are presumed to be have worked their way into the interior to infect other working illegal migrant communities.
"They're running. They're fighting. They're doing everything that they can to avoid apprehension," he said. "Even though some of the illegal aliens know, or highly suspect, that they have Covid ... they're still coming. They're exposing everyone they come in contact with during their journey, as they illegally try to enter this country."
In doing so, "They endanger the lives of CBP personnel and their families and those in our border communities and beyond. They don't just remain in the border towns and cities. A single Covid illegal alien could infect hundreds of other illegal aliens as well as our workforce."
It is beyond dispute that untold numbers of illegal immigrants, dual-citizenship Mexicans, Mexican visa-holders of various kinds, and American expatriates have been fleeing overwhelmed Mexican hospitals and contributing to the filling of American ones since at least early June. (see my July 24 Townhall column)
Why It Matters
At stake in understanding and acknowledging the extent of Mexico as an aggravating source of U.S. border-state hospitalizations is whether state and federal officials should consider policies beyond reinstituting U.S.-side lockdown and social distancing measures. Instead, they ought to consider changes to the federal March 20 border shutdown restrictions; to Border Patrol hospital transport policy in light of Title 42; or acting to relieve Mexico's ongoing hospital capacity crisis, which is clearly bleeding over to the U.S. hospital system.
But U.S. and state officials rarely acknowledge the Mexico contribution or talk about it as Morgan did Thursday. That's because when they have, illegal immigration activists have excoriated them as xenophobic or racist, as happened to Arizona's Republican Governor Doug Ducey when he cited Mexico as a significant source of Covid hospitalizations, and also when Trump administration officials discussed what to do about it privately.
As a result of such criticism, federal and state government officials have shied away from calculating the extent to which Mexico and the border shutdown policy are sources of the U.S. border-state hospitalization crisis, and reconfiguring public policies as necessary to counter it.
But not everyone.
In mid-July, three members of Congress sent a letter to Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, requesting data that would indicate Mexico's contribution to border hospitalizations, including how often the Border Patrol transports patients to hospitals. The information was due July 24 to Reps. Chip Roy (R-Texas), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), and Ted Budd (R-N.C.). Roy's office said DHS had missed the deadlines but seemed to be gathering the information.
On Monday, the congressional trio sent a new letter to Wolf, this one on behalf of another 19 signatories, asking for additional information related to the border closure policy, which bans only “essential” travel, and hinting at whether the definition was overly broad.
The members asked how CBP has defined “essential travel,” under what circumstances aliens with border crossing cards are stopped at the border and when they are admitted, and what steps CBP is taking to prevent Covid-positive aliens from entering. It also asks how many aliens with border crossing cards have been admitted into U.S. health care facilities for Covid treatment.
“Our policies are only as good as their enforcement, and we cannot afford to undermine their effectiveness – especially with lives, resources, and the wellbeing of our nation on the line,” the members' letter reads. “We must implement and subsequently enforce common-sense measures to limit the spread of this highly contagious virus and are hopeful that your department will focus aggressively on our border states and localities.”
I have filed a Freedom of Information Act request and two Texas Public Information Act requests for similar information. All are pending.
Follow Todd Bensman on Twitter @BensmanTodd