Overwhelmed Texas border community begins busing migrants to Austin

The City of Laredo is busing migrants to multiple Texas cities, including Austin, due to being overwhelmed by the numbers.

The City of Austin was notified over the weekend and has had a handful of buses arrive this week, according to a spokesperson.

"We understand that the situation is challenging down in Laredo and they are keeping us mostly apprised of when buses are leaving and when, and how many folks are on them," said Bryce Bencivengo, the communications manager for Austin’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management. "We appreciate that coordination and hope that will continue." 

The mayor of Laredo, in a recent interview on Fox News’ "America Reports," described what his community is seeing. "We’re taking the overflow," said Mayor Pete Saenz. "Border patrol is overwhelmed in the McAllen and Rio Grande Valley area so they’re bussing migrants to our city to be processed." 

It’s not just the numbers alone that has the mayor concerned. Migrants are testing positive for COVID-19 and contributing to an already overwhelmed hospital system.

"We’ve had no other choice but to basically transport these folks further north because we can’t handle it here," said Mayor Saenz.

Thursday afternoon, one woman watched as a bus pulled into an Austin Greyhound station. She told FOX 7 that she followed it from Laredo. 

"I’ve been documenting the illegal immigration situation on the border since right after Biden took office," said the Austin resident, who wanted to remain anonymous. "I just came back from Laredo this morning and followed these buses back."

Part of her frustration was over the fact that migrants are being brought here without being tested - potentially spreading COVID-19. "These people are not being forced to take a vaccine, they’re not being forced to even take a test at all," she said. 

However, Bencivengo said that so far most of the migrants being bused into Austin are just making a stop on their way out of Central Texas.

"We’ve got Austin Public Health and our Office of Emergency Management talking with our partners who traditionally work in this space and making sure they can keep us apprised of what they’re seeing, and we can tell them what we’re hearing so that we can make changes, if necessary, in the future," said Bencivengo.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, the mayor of Laredo joined Rep. Henry Cuellar in McAllen to meet with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. In a post-meeting press conference, Mayor Saenz described the discussion as "candid" and "passionate."

"We need solutions, short-term solutions," said Mayor Saenz. "Keep in mind this is a federal issue created by failed federal policies, and they’re expecting us smaller communities to bail them out."

Mayor Saenz said he believes 70 percent of the solution would be providing more border patrol agents. 

According to CBP data shared by Rep. Cuellar, more than 1.3 million migrants have been apprehended at the southern border this fiscal year. Close to 900,000 have been apprehended on the Texas-Mexico border specifically, with the strong majority coming into the Rio Grande Valley.

According to the mayor of Laredo, the migrants that are crossing are not being tested for COVID-19 before being sent into communities - like his own.

"Imagine you’re a mayor and you’re limited with hospital beds, and you have someone from Laredo versus somebody that might not be from here," said Rep. Cuellar, whose district includes Laredo. "It puts them in a very difficult situation."  

Earlier this month, Rep. Cuellar, a Democrat, partnered with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham to send a letter to President Biden asking for him to appoint a border czar to help address the "humanitarian and public safety emergency" at the border

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