The United States will crack down on illegal immigration across its southern border, the New York Times reports Wednesday, and has pledged to “swiftly turn back” all unauthorized individuals, including those with foreign passports and those seeking asylum.
The news comes as the Trump administration considers a full border lockdown, drastically limiting border crossings not just from Mexico, but also from Canada. The United States has already taken measures to halt the flow of both immigrants and visitors from Europe and Asia.
Mexico has yet to take drastic measures to control the spread of the dreaded coronavirus and Trump administration officials fear that, though few cases have been resported, immigrants, visitors, and asylum seekers who travel from Central America and through Mexico may carry or come into contact with the virus.
“The administration officials said the ports of entry would remain open to American citizens, green-card holders and foreigners with proper documentation,” the NYT says. “Some foreigners would be blocked, including Europeans currently subject to earlier travel restrictions imposed by the administration. The points of entry will also be open to commercial traffic.”
The administration, according to the NYT, is expected to announced the change within the next 48 hours, and the new rules will include much stricter border interdiction measures — something the Trump administration has been pushing for since well before the first incidence of coronavirus.
Agents of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency will be told to “immediately return anyone to Mexico” who crosses without the proper documentation or who “attempts to cross the southwestern border between the legal ports of entry,” per the NYT.
At the moment, captured illegal immigrants and asylum seekers who cross somewhere other than a legal port of entry are being held for a short time in American detention facilities, then processed and sent to “remain in Mexico” while they typically await a hearing on their asylum claim. Border Patrol agents, however, say the current setup is fraught with potential danger. If held for any length of time, immigrants carrying coronavirus could spread the disease to others in detention facilities on either side of the border or even to Border Patrol agents.
Most of those captured are already in poor health, the Border Patrol told the NYT and, if no action is taken, many captured immigrants could wait weeks or even months in detention facilities; immigration courts are postponing most hearings until at least April 10 over concerns about coronavirus spreading within the United States.
“The president is 100% focused on protecting the American people from the coronavirus, and all options are on the table,” a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security told the Wall Street Journal.
President Donald Trump would not comment on the issue except to say that “we are discussing things with Canada, and we’re discussing things with Mexico.”
There are hurdles: rules require that those seeking asylum receive at least some adjudication of their claim, and foreigners who are not Mexican cannot be returned to Mexico without some system in place to assure they will not be subject to harm if they are sent back to their respective home countries. Mexico, the WSJ says, would also need to sign off on any plan to simply turn illegal immigrants back around.
The administration does have the option to close the border entirely, however — and that’s something it is reportedly considering.