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Trump administration extends border travel restrictions

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  • The Trump administration is extending a ban on “non-essential” travel at the borders with Canada and Mexico.
  • “Our efforts over the last several months to limit non-essential travel have been successful and now is not the time to change course,” Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf said in a statement.
  • Leading public health experts say the ban on asylum-seekers has no basis in science.
  • “The nation’s public health laws should not be used as a pretext for overriding humanitarian laws and treaties that provide life-saving protections to refugees seeking asylum and unaccompanied children,” they wrote.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Trump administration on Tuesday extended restrictions on “non-essential” travel at the US borders with Canada and Mexico, including a ban on asylum-seekers that experts say has nothing to do with protecting public health.

“Our efforts over the last several months to limit non-essential travel have been successful and now is not the time to change course,” Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf said in a statement.

The travel restrictions, which apply only to land ports, do not prohibit US citizens and permanent residents from entering the country, nor persons traveling for work, attending school, transporting goods, or receiving or providing medical treatment. 

Tourists traveling by land are prohibited, however, as are those seeking refuge from poverty or violence.

That latter prohibition could end up being indefinite, according to a May 13 report in The New York Times. A draft public health order from Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, would extend border restrictions until the CDC determines that the “further introduction of COVID-19 into the United States has ceased to be a danger to the public health.”

That policy itself, critics charge, is what poses a threat to public health, and not just in the United States.

In a May 18 letter to Dr. Redfield and Alex Azar, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, more than three dozen of the US’s eminent public health experts argue that there is no justification — beyond politics — for extending travel restrictions to asylum-seekers. 

Signatories, including the deans of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and George Washington University’s Milken Institute of Public Health, say that migrants could be safely processed with the help of social distancing and proper sanitation procedures, arguing they should be allowed to self-quarantine upon admission, as opposed to being held in any “mass quarantine” setting.

“The nation’s public health laws should not be used as a pretext for overriding humanitarian laws and treaties that provide life-saving protections to refugees seeking asylum and unaccompanied children,” the experts wrote.

Indeed, tourists traveling by plane or ship pose a far greater danger of spreading contagion, they note, yet are not barred (unless they have recently visited China, Iran, the United Kingdom, or the European Union).

“The rule is thus being used to target certain classes of noncitizens,” the letter states, “rather than to protect public health.”

US immigration policy during the pandemic has also exacerbated the threat of the coronavirus elsewhere, according to the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders. 

“Despite the risk of contagion and the implications for people’s health, the US has continued to organize flights to deport migrants and asylum seekers to their countries of origin,” Marc Bosch, the group’s coordinator for Latin America, stated earlier this month. In one Mexican town, the group said, at least 15 people contracted the coronavirus from a recent deportee.

“It’s clear that the Trump administration isn’t basing its border security and immigration policy decisions on legitimate public health concerns,” Adam Isacson, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, said in a May 19 statement. “This is a push to implement an extreme anti-immigrant agenda, no matter what kind of humanitarian catastrophe it causes.”

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