As President Biden’s new coronavirus travel ban took effect Monday, security experts say he’s left a glaring hole in his scheme: the southern border.
Visitors coming from South Africa and seven other African nations are now banned from trying to reach the U.S., amid fears of the new omicron variant of the virus. But those same visitors, if they manage to reach America’s southern border through Mexico and bring a child with them, are likely to be caught and released into the country.
It’s the same loophole that’s existed for much of the year, with the Biden administration adopting a more lenient approach to families and children caught jumping the border, compared with those same people trying to come legally through an airport.
“Under the current administration’s policies a migrant can be banned from lawfully traveling to the U.S., but if you illegally cross our border from the same banned country — you’re welcomed in,” said Mark Morgan, who ran Customs and Border Protection in the Trump administration. “With Border Patrol apprehending illegal aliens from more than 150 different countries, with 25% having active COVID, the implementation of this administration’s COVID policies are inconsistent, non-sensical, and it puts our entire nation at risk.”
As a presidential candidate, Mr. Biden scoffed at travel bans, labeling the COVID-19 version announced by then-President Trump in early 2020 as “hysteria, xenophobia and fear-mongering.”
But the Biden team kept a version of the ban in place, even for vaccinated visitors, until early in November.
Now, as omicron spreads, the Biden team is once again turning to the tool that it labeled racist.
The eight countries slapped with the ban effective Monday are South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. People who were present in one of those nations 14 days before they intended to travel to the U.S. are supposed to be blocked from entry.
The CBP did not respond to a request for comment from The Washington Times on the new policy and how illegal immigrants from banned countries would be affected.
Mr. Morgan, who oversaw implementation of the Trump COVID-19 ban, called the Biden stance “unmitigated and blatant hypocrisy.”
“When we implemented a similar travel ban under the Trump administration, then candidate Biden called it a ‘disgrace’ and further condemned any travel ban as ineffective,” he said.
Mr. Morgan said at the time they imposed the ban, the science on the virus was unclear, there was no vaccine available, and a ban made sense.
Now, given the availability of vaccines and advancing science, the Biden team acknowledges only “marginal benefit” but says that’s enough of a reason to plow ahead. But the border remains a hole in that plan.
“Although it’s difficult to determine the true effectiveness of travel bans, what we know for certain is they won’t work if they are not applied to the thousands of migrants illegally entering our southern border on a daily basis and being released into the U.S.,” Mr. Morgan told The Times in an email.
The border numbers from nations in southern Africa haven’t been large. In 2020, the last year for which full data has been published, just eight people from South Africa and two from Zimbabwe were nabbed trying to enter without authorization.
But the border is increasingly international in its lawlessness, with migrants from beyond Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador making up a growing rate of the overall illegal flow. In October, those from outside the four key countries accounted for 29% of all Border Patrol apprehensions at the southern border. That rate stood at just 8% a year ago.
In fiscal year 2021, which ended Sept. 30, illegal immigrants from 160 different countries were caught at the border.
The southern border has been a trouble spot for coronavirus from the start of the Biden administration, which erased get-tough Trump policies that had tamped down on illegal activity.
Fiscal 2021 ended as the worst on record for Border Patrol apprehensions.
And as the delta variant of the coronavirus took hold, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testified to Congress in September that 20% of border jumpers were infected.
Under the system Mr. Mayorkas is overseeing, migrants aren’t automatically tested upon entry.
Only if they self-report or an agent observes symptoms they are tested at the border.
Some percentage of border jumpers — 56% in October — were processed and expelled back to Mexico under the government’s pandemic border emergency powers through Title 42 of the U.S. Code. The rest were permitted to enter, most of them released into communities within hours or days.
They are supposed to be tested by local governments or charities, which are working in cooperation with Homeland Security. Those organizations are supposed to have the ability to quarantine migrants who test positive, though law enforcement officials on the ground in many communities say migrants regularly break quarantine.
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.