Trump Administration Plans to Extend Virus Border Restrictions Indefinitely
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is moving to extend its coronavirus border restrictions indefinitely, advancing the crackdown through broad public health authorities that have effectively sealed the United States to migrants seeking protection from persecution, according to officials and a draft of a public health order.
On March 21, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention imposed a 30-day restriction on all nonessential travel into the United States from Mexico and Canada, closing legal points of entry to tourism and immediately returning immigrants who crossed the border illegally to Mexico or their home countries. Since then, only two migrants have been permitted to remain in the United States to pursue asylum, according to a United States Citizenship and Immigration official.
The order — which was extended for another 30 days on April 20 — was part of a broad effort, led by Stephen Miller, the architect of President Trump’s immigration agenda, to aggressively use public health laws to reduce immigration as the government battles the virus.
But a new order under review by several government agencies is intended to extend the restrictions indefinitely. Once issued by Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the C.D.C., the border restrictions would stay in effect until he decides the virus no longer poses a threat. The indefinite extension comes even as Mr. Trump has repeatedly pushed for states to reopen their economies, arguing that the threat from the virus will quickly recede.
“I am extending the duration of the order until I determine that the danger of further introduction of Covid-19 into the United States has ceased to be a danger to the public health,” a copy of the draft order obtained by The New York Times reads.
While C.D.C. officials will review the dangers posed by the virus to the American public every 30 days, the new order essentially means that the border will be closed to immigrants until Mr. Redfield explicitly says otherwise — not the other way around.
The Trump administration has used the risks posed by the coronavirus to justify restrictive immigration policies, including halting flights of refugees, naturalization ceremonies and the issuance of many green cards to those outside the United States. Mr. Trump has, however, allowed temporary visas to be given to seasonal workers and deemed farmworkers and meatpackers, many of whom are immigrants, to be essential workers to the United States.
It is not clear when the administration intends to formally issue the new order, which Department of Homeland Security officials say is needed to prevent the spread of the virus in detention centers along the border. The existing restrictions are set to expire on May 21. The White House declined to comment.
The C.D.C. did not answer questions about the criteria Mr. Redfield has used to extend the border rule, which officials have also used to rapidly turn away children who cross the border alone instead of referring them to a shelter managed by the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
The indefinite nature of the order caused alarm among immigration advocates, who have accused Mr. Miller and the Trump administration of using the pandemic to impose immigration restrictions they have long wanted to make permanent. The administration had already imposed an array of immigration restrictions over the past three years, and on several occasions before the crisis, Mr. Miller and others in the administration considered using public health laws to reduce immigration further.
“This ban was never about the pandemic, and it was never about public health,” said Charanya Krishnaswami, an advocacy director for Amnesty International. “As today’s news makes clear, the Trump administration is weaponizing Covid-19 to achieve the policy objective it’s sought from Day 1: shutting the border to people seeking safety.”
The restrictions have already significantly hindered opportunities to seek humanitarian protections in the United States. Since March 21, Border Patrol agents referred 59 migrants to be interviewed by asylum officers, according to the Citizenship and Immigration official.
Only two seeking the protections were allowed to remain in the United States. An additional three migrants have pending cases, while 54 were turned away. The Washington Post first reported the asylum statistics.News to stay informed. Advice to stay safe.
Click here for complete coronavirus coverage from Microsoft News
The administration has used public health powers to immediately return more than 20,000 migrants to Mexico or their home countries since the rule took effect in late March.
The United States still leads the world with more than 1.3 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus. But the Mexican government has also alarmed health officials by not disclosing deaths from the virus.
“The threat we face from outside our borders, from this global infectious disease, highlights the need now more than ever before for border security,” said Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.
The New York Times – Michael D. Shear and Zolan Kanno-Youngs