- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 22, 2020

Illegal border crossings were cut in half on the first day of the border shutdown, Homeland Security said Sunday, calling the ability to quickly deport migrants a major win as the country tries to limit spread of the coronavirus.

The shutdown, which began at the end of Friday, covers America’s borders with both Canada and Mexico, closing them to all but “essential” traffic. That means no tourism, though regular trade continues, as do visits for medical care or those who cross the border for school.

As part of the shutdown, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention triggered a section of the Public Health Act that bars entry of all undocumented immigrants and allows the U.S. to turn them back at the border.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said they’re already seeing effects.

“That’s what the department has been doing over the last 24 hours and I would say it is working, we see almost a 50% drop in illegal apprehensions, those illegal individuals coming across our borders,” he told Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” program.

Those that do still show up are immediately returned back across the border, officials said over the weekend.

The land border shutdown joins strict rules on flights from countries particularly hard-hit by COVID-19.

The shutdown is mutual, with Americans also restricted from crossing into Canada and Mexico.

As of Sunday afternoon, Mexico had 251 cases of COVID-19 and Canada reported 1,378, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. far outstripped them with more than 31,000 cases.

Other countries with high numbers of undocumented immigrants and significant coronavirus cases include China, Brazil and India.

Homeland Security officials said immigrants who are in the country illegally present a particular challenge since the migrants arrive often without identification or medical histories.

And once arrested, they are put into holding cells at the border and often transferred to immigration detention facilities, both of which present risks for disease transmission.

Immediately returning migrants means they don’t end up in those environments, Mr. Wolf said.

“It won’t be the six, seven or 10 days we currently have,” Mr. Wolf said Friday as he announced the changes at the White House.

Amnesty International complained that the move will strand refugees fleeing persecution, and it could also leave juvenile migrants traveling without parents — what the government calls Unaccompanied Alien Children, or UACs — in danger.

“This is cruel, short-sighted, and opportunistic,” said Charanya Krishnaswami, an Amnesty International official. “Every person has the right to seek safety. Full stop.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the restrictions won’t affect foreign guest-worker programs such as farm workers who plan to come to the U.S. on H-2A visas.

Mr. Pompeo said they are considered essential to the economy.

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