DHS Needs to Enhance Its COVID-19 Response at the Southwest Border
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) does not conduct COVID-19 testing for migrants who enter CBP custody and is not required to do so. Instead, CBP relies on local public health systems to test symptomatic individuals. According to CBP officials, as a frontline law enforcement agency, it does not have the necessary resources to conduct such testing. For migrants that are transferred or released from CBP custody into the United States, CBP coordinates with DHS, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and other Federal, state, and local partners for COVID-19 testing of migrants. In addition, although DHS generally follows guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for COVID-19 preventative measures, the DHS’ multi-layered COVID-19 testing framework does not require CBP to conduct COVID-19 testing at CBP facilities. Further, DHS’ Chief Medical Officer does not have the authority to direct or enforce COVID-19 testing procedures. We recommended DHS reassess its COVID-19 response framework to identify areas for improvement to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while balancing its primary mission of securing the border. Additionally, we recommended DHS ensure the components continue to coordinate with the DHS Chief Medical Officer and provide available resources needed to operate safely and effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic and any future public health crisis. We made two recommendations to improve DHS’ response to COVID-19 at the southwest border. DHS concurred with both recommendations.