Migrants seeking asylum in the United States are being temporarily housed at the Ramada hotel at Barbara Worth Country Club in Holtville as a quarantine measure for potential COVID-19 exposure. Several could be seen congregating outside their rooms. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO

Imperial County Concerned Over COVID-19 Testing of Released Migrants

Imperial County leaders are hoping the federal government will start COVID-19 testing some individuals they are releasing from custody.

The Board of Supervisors sent a letter on April 12 and ratified it Tuesday, April 20 asking U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials in Washington, D.C. to coordinate COVID-19 testing for Entry Without Inspection individuals prior to their release from custody, according to the letter.

Entry Without Inspection individuals are those who entered the U.S. without being inspected by an immigration or Border Patrol agent at a port of entry or checkpoint without obtaining permission to enter the country, according to county public information officer Gil Rebollar.

County officials had already discussed the issue with local Customs and Border Protection officials, according to the letter to the federal officials.

The impetus for the letter, apparently, followed that “wholly unsatisfactory discussion on this matter with local U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials,” according to the letter.

“The lack of a screening for COVID-19 not only places EWI individuals at risk, but the public health of our entire community,” the letter states. “Imperial County is a community with a higher proportion of racial and ethnic minority populations that have been gravely and disproportionately affected by COVID-19. CBP officials’ refusal to implement a simple and reactive testing strategy only aggravates the situation.”

Like the Ramada hotel at the Barbara Worth Country Club in Holtville, the Travelodge in El Centro off Cottonwood Circle is functioning as a quarantine and isolation site for asylum seekers released from federal custody who are either COVID positive or who have been exposed. Both the Travelodge and Ramada in Holtville are being run by Catholic Charities, Diocese of San Diego, under a contract with the state. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO

Imperial County officials volunteered to provide local resources and coordinate state resources if needed, but those requests were denied based on national policy, according to the letter.

“We understand that there is a pilot COVID-1 testing program underway at a CBP facility in Del Rio, Texas,” according to the letter. “We are requesting that a similar pilot be immediately approved in Imperial County with the accompanying resources to implement the program or that you implement policy that permits federal-local coordination and collocation to conduct testing prior to releasing. 

“Timely access to and availability of testing is imperative, especially when the level of community transmission in Imperial County is still substantial,” the letter continues. “Implementing responsive testing is an essential action that must be taken to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Board Acts on Youth Workforce Issue

The county is also looking toward the future workforce, as the board voted unanimously to request proposals for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Youth Program Services for fiscal 2021-2022.

The services are offered for eligible youths ages 14 to 24, said Priscilla Lopez, Workforce and Economic Development director. The county will release a request for proposals to provide services for those individuals in what has been a successful program.

“It’s very important to note that throughout the years we’ve added components including financial literacy and other areas,” Lopez said. “This increase that we’re proposing for services, we want to see how much we can get out of this program.”

That includes technology, which the area has seen throughout the pandemic that some kids have lacked, she said.

The request is being made to fulfil the workforce development board mandate to provide eligible youths with comprehensive activities and ongoing guidance intended to improve long-term employability and enhance educational, occupational and leadership skills. 

The program will be funded by Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funding in an amount not to exceed $2.2 million, she said. There will be no impact to the county general fund.

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