Homeland Security has reported its first case of COVID-19 tourism after capturing an illegal immigrant from Mexico who suspected he had the disease and jumped the border hoping to get treatment from American doctors.
The man was immediately returned to Mexican authorities for treatment, Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, told reporters Thursday as he detailed his agency’s success in preventing what he said could have been a public health disaster had illegal immigration continued at last year’s record pace.
Instead, thanks to President Trump’s get-tough policies, the border is a success story amid the pandemic, Mr. Morgan says. Holding facilities that last year busted capacity with 20,000 people standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the worst days now average only 100 people, allowing social distancing and keeping CBP personnel, health workers and the migrants themselves safe, he said.
And the overall flow across the border is down dramatically. Fewer than 17,000 unauthorized migrants were encountered at border crossings or nabbed by agents trying to jump the border in April. That’s down about 50% from March, and is 85% below the level a year ago in April 2019.
Mr. Morgan said the risks to the U.S. had the coronavirus struck in the middle of last year would have been disastrous, and keeping the number of illegal border crossers low has been critical to limiting that avenue for the coronavirus to spread.
“We should never allow ourselves to be in that vulnerable position again,” he said.
Mr. Trump’s get-tough approach stretches back to last year, when he struck deals with Mexico and Central American countries to get them to quickly take back their migrants.
They were enhanced during coronavirus when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention triggered a section of the Public Health Act that allows the administration to ban all unauthorized entries. In practice, that means Mexicans — who make up most of the illegal flow — can be immediately returned across the border, though migrants from outside the immediate region are still tougher to return.
The Mexican man who showed signs of COVID-19 infection was returned to Mexico for authorities there.
“He admitted that he deliberately entered the United States to seek medical treatment,” Mr. Morgan said.
Meanwhile another migrant, an Indian national nabbed by agents last month, did test positive in U.S. custody for COVID-19. He was nabbed along with three Mexicans.
That man had traversed more than six countries on his trip to the U.S., Mr. Morgan said, encountering — and perhaps endangering — countless people along the way.
Mr. Morgan said because they’ve been able to reduce the illegal flow and empty the border holding facilities, they were able to immediately isolate the Indian man, preventing unnecessary exposure to other migrants and to agents and health care workers.
The man was eventually turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which handles detention and deportation and has experience dealing with migrants with infectious diseases.
Immigration-rights activists have complained that people with genuine reasons to flee their home countries are being shut out of the U.S.