President Trump is pondering a move to declare the southwest border closed to all illegal immigration as officials eye the growing number of coronavirus cases in countries that are responsible for the lion’s share of unauthorized crossings.
Under the policy the administration would claim powers to turn back into Mexico anyone who shows up without permission.
Currently, they are arrested and usually go through a deportation process of varying speeds.
One administration official said the possibility of COVID-19 cases making their way into the U.S. via the border has caused “profound alarm within the federal government, national security apparatus and health care community.”
“The truth is that the unmitigated spread of pandemic through the [southwest] border will have dangerous, adverse and even deadly consequences to potentially millions of Americans, as well as migrants, law enforcement personnel, doctors and nurses, and so many more,” said the official, who is familiar with the discussions.
Mr. Trump had publicly said he was considering shutting down the border, then reversed last week and said he doubted it would be necessary.
In more recent days, though, he has stepped up his rhetoric, with immigrant-rights activists complaining after he called COVID-19 the “Chinese virus.” The virus originated in China.
Word of the potential new border policy further enraged activists.
Frank Sharry, executive director at America’s Voice, said Mr. Trump was playing politics with the move, “throwing red meat to white grievance voters and deliberately dividing the country.”
“This is a nasty move by a nasty White House as they gear up to run the nastiest campaign in American history,” Mr. Sharry said.
The New York Times first reported the potential border shutdown.
Mexico, which accounts for more than half of illegal border crossings so far this fiscal year, and is the transit point for those from further south, had 53 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday afternoon.
All told, migrants from 122 different countries have been nabbed at the border this year, according to Homeland Security data shared with The Times.
Countries that have COVID-19 cases and also account for a large number of illegal immigrants include Brazil, Cameroon, China, Ecuador, Honduras and Guatemala.