Migration Advocates: Open the Borders to Asylum Seekers with Coronavirus

Border Crossers with Children
Guillermo Arias/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump should open the southern borders to migrants who are seeking asylum, regardless of coronavirus dangers, say a group of elite “public health” specialists.

U.S. border agents can be protected from incoming disease by elaborate security procedures, says the May 18 letter to Alex Azar, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services:

During border processing, facilitate social distancing through demarcations and the use of outdoor and other areas for processing; require wearing of masks or similar cloth coverings over the face and nose for both officers and persons crossing into the United States; use plexiglass barriers and/or face shields for officers during interviews and identity-checks; provide hand-sanitizer and other handwashing for both officers and other persons; and provide requisite distance, as well as masks and other measures, in transport;

Yet the asylum seekers should be trusted to self-quarantine once they reach their families throughout the United States, according to the letter from 40 credentialed advocates:

Rather than detaining asylum seekers in congregate settings, allow asylum seekers to wait for their court hearings with their families or other contacts in the United States through parole, case management and other alternatives to detention.

Facilitate self-quarantine at destination locations, should all individuals crossing the southern border be required to do so. Under no circumstances should CBP operate mass quarantine facilities.

The signatories include Harvard professor Jacqueline Bhabha, Columbia professor Joanne Csete; Ayman El-Mohandes, the dean at CUNY Graduate School; Columbia University public health professor Wafaa El-Sadr; and Lynn Goldman, a dean at
George Washington University.

The letter says the asylum seekers be allowed in because the administration does not bar other travelers, including truck drivers, visa workers, and tourists. The administration:

Exempts permanent residents and U.S. citizens, and does not apply to tourists arriving by plane or ship – even though these modes of transportation are explicitly listed by HHS as congregate settings with higher risk of disease transmission than land travel.

There is no public health rationale for denying admission to individuals based on legal status. Protecting public health is of paramount importance during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, a pandemic does not absolve the federal government of its legal and treaty obligations to asylum seekers and unaccompanied children.

The letter does not set a cap on the number of migrants, and it does not discuss whether an open border will encourage people to travel to the United States for jobs and healthcare.

Nor does the letter suggest safeguards to prevent any open border from precipitating a huge rush of sick and poor migrants, or consider the impact on Americans seeking a job amid the coronavirus crash.

The letter is aimed at HHS because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has used its Title 42 power to block migration through the border. On May 14, the New York Times reported that the White House would extend the anti-disease rules:

[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.

“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.

Combined with the economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus crash and reforms border enforcement, the rule has almost completely ended cross-border asylum efforts. The Washington Posreported May 13:

Citing the threat to public health from the coronavirus, the Trump administration has suspended most due-process rights for migrants, including children and asylum seekers, while “expelling” more than 20,000 unauthorized border-crossers to Mexico under a provision of U.S. code known as Title 42.
The statistics show that USCIS conducted just 59 screening interviews between March 21 and Wednesday under the Convention Against Torture, effectively the only category of protection in the United States that is still available to those who express a fear of grave harm if rejected. USCIS rejected 54 applicants and three cases are pending, according to the data, which does not indicate the nationality of those screened or other demographic information.

However, migrants and the cartel-backed coyotes are reviving efforts to sneak migrants through the border zone.

“Laredo Sector Border Patrol agents disrupted a human smuggling attempt involving 25 migrants in a tractor-trailer rig. The interdiction occurred at the Interstate 35 checkpoint located between Laredo and San Antonio, Texas,” Breitbart News reported May 15.

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