As COVID-19 cases surge across the border, new questions are being asked about the nexus of immigration and the spread of the coronavirus.

Several Republican members of Congress have suggested that illegal immigrants and legal border crossers might be responsible for part of the spike in cases in Texas, California and Arizona, which are among the worst-hit states in the current wave.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf has said U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents in northern Mexico are fleeing overrun hospitals south of the border and heading north for care in the U.S. That is contributing to higher numbers in border states.

Immigration rights activists say there is no evidence to back up those claims. They say U.S. policies are making the situation in northern Mexico worse by invoking a part of public health law to immediately expel unauthorized border crossers and make asylum seekers wait in Mexico for their hearings. Administration officials say the expulsions have likely saved many lives in the U.S.

President Trump invoked the public health law on March 21 to expel unauthorized border crossers. As of July 15, more than 88,000 people were blocked from entering the U.S. because of the law.

If not for this effort, tens of thousands of aliens acting as potential carriers for the coronavirus would have continued to enter law enforcement facilities near the border in congregate settings, making our southwest border a major vein for coronavirus outbreak,” a senior administration official said.

Illegal border crossings, which dipped dramatically in April, surged in May and again in June.

Migrants who were paying a few thousand dollars to smugglers in April now shell out $9,000 or more to get into the U.S., according to data tracked by The Washington Times.

For instance, police in Pharr, Texas, got a tip that an illegal alien said he and others had been held at gunpoint by a smuggler demanding more money before releasing them.

Alonso Trejo-Padron, a Mexican national, managed to phone in the alert after the accused smuggler, Baylee Lugo, went out for cigarettes and forced Mr. Trejo-Padron to accompany him, according to court documents. When they arrived at the store, though, Mr. Trejo-Padron didn’t have a mask and Mr. Lugo had to leave him in the car — giving him a chance to flag down a woman outside the store who helped call the police.

Homeland Security Investigations agents responded to the Red Roof Inn where Mr. Trejo-Padron said three other aliens were being held. When they arrived, they arrested Mr. Lugo and recovered the pistol that the migrants said he had been using to threaten them as he extorted them for more money.

Each migrant reported paying $4,000 for passage across the border and said Mr. Lugo was trying to demand thousands more to be paid directly to him.

The case came to light because the Department of Homeland Security referred them for prosecution and the Justice Department made a formal case out of it.

That is increasingly rare, according to data collected by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. In February, Customs and Border Protection referred more than 7,700 cases for prosecution. In May, referrals had dropped to 1,649. In June, referrals slipped to 1,295, TRAC says — a drop of 83%. By contrast, the FBI’s referrals were down just 6%.

For the full story, please visit the Washinton Times.

Updated: Tue, Aug 11th 2020 @ 12:05pm EDT