President Barack Obama’s administration is beginning to crack on travel restrictions from Ebola-stricken countries.
While not a full travel ban, the Department of Homeland Security has announced partial travel restrictions that will go into effect Wednesday morning.
“Today, as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s ongoing response to prevent the spread of Ebola to the United States, we are announcing travel restrictions in the form of additional screening and protective measures at our ports of entry for travelers from the three West African Ebola-affected countries,” DHS secretary Jeh Johnson said in a Tuesday morning statement. “These new measures will go into effect tomorrow.”
Johnson noted how last week, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), DHS began “enhanced screening measures” at New York’s JFK airport, Newark airport, Washington Dulles airport, and at Atlanta’s and Chicago’s airports.
“Passengers flying into one of these airports from flights originating in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are subject to secondary screening and added protocols, including having their temperature taken, before they can be admitted into the United States,” Johnson said. “These airports account for about 94 percent of travelers flying to the United States from these countries. At present there are no direct, non-stop commercial flights from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea to any airport in the United States.”
The new Obama administration travel restrictions that Johnson is implementing as of Tuesday morning will require anyone originating from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea to change their flights to travel through one of those five airports with “enhanced screening measures” to get into the U.S. Johnson said:
Today, I am announcing that all passengers arriving in the United States whose travel originates in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea will be required to fly into one of the five airports that have the enhanced screening and additional resources in place. We are working closely with the airlines to implement these restrictions with minimal travel disruption. If not already handled by the airlines, the few impacted travelers should contact the airlines for rebooking, as needed. We currently have in place measures to identify and screen anyone at all land, sea and air ports of entry into the United States and who we have reason to believe has been present in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea in the preceding 21 days.
The new administration stance on travel restrictions–while not an outright ban on travel from Ebola-stricken nations–is a marked shift from where President Obama himself was on the matter just a few days ago.
“We can’t just cut ourselves off from West Africa,” Obama said last week, arguing that a travel ban would make it more difficult to get aid workers, health volunteers and supplies into West Africa, and may motivate people to evade screening to illegally sneak into the United States through America’s weakened immigration system.
“Trying to seal off an entire region of the world – if that were even possible – could actually make the situation worse,” Obama said.
But with Democrats nationwide bucking the president’s fighting of a travel ban, the president and administration seem to have been forced into backing some kind of travel restrictions. Incumbent Democratic Senators like Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire flip-flopped on a travel ban, now expressing support after initially opposing a ban–something their respective Republican challengers Thom Tillis and Scott Brown hammered them over. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR), another vulnerable Democratic incumbent, has backed a travel ban as well, as has New York’s Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail have seized on the issue. Speaker John Boehner has backed a travel ban, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has announced plans to introduce legislation to ban the issuance of visas to those from Ebola-stricken nations–something candidates like Tillis and Iowa’s GOP U.S. Senate nominee Joni Ernst have supported.
The Obama administration’s seeming reversal from the president’s previous comments is surely not going to be enough to appease Republicans and some Democrats, who are demanding a full blown travel ban.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), one of the most vocal supporters of a full travel ban, said on CNN this weekend in an interview with Candy Crowley that the president’s claim that doctors and aid workers wouldn’t be able to get into West Africa with a flight ban is nonsense. Cruz said:
The doctors and experts that are saying [a flight ban is counter-productive] are repeating the administration talking points. Their arguments don’t make sense. The first argument about the screens doesn’t make sense because they don’t work during the 21-day incubation period, and the second argument they make is they say a travel ban would prevent health care relief workers from arriving in West Africa. No one is talking about banning flights into West Africa. And health care workers should of course be allowed to go in there and we can send them in on charter flights or military C-130 aircraft with appropriate safety precautions. That’s very different from saying commercial airliners should fly day after day after day with hundreds of passengers connecting with thousands of passengers coming all throughout the country.