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Pandemic? Close the Border!

Terry H. Schwadron

Aug. 12, 2020

The White House has discovered there is a coronavirus problem. The solution: Let’s consider blocking U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents from returning to this country from abroad, particularly from Mexico — if authorities believe the person may be infected.

This policy, obtained by The New York Times and Washington Post, is circulating for comment within the White House, is laden with Constitutional, medical and political weights.

But more basically, Team Trump thinks the problem is letting American citizens who may be ill back into this country for treatment?

What? We can’t get this government to say people should wear masks, we shouldn’t challenge the obvious medical problems in insisting that schools across the country re-open, and we are constantly told to look away from 160,000 deaths from coronavirus because the Trump administration is doing such a good job.

But now, we’re supposed to embrace a policy that keeps Americans away from home as the result of the same disease?

Nothing wrong with sports leagues starting up again, despite immediate rise of coronavirus cases, or 250,000 bikers to gather in Sturgis, SD. Masks are individual choice, Trump professes, and he regularly sneers at efforts towards physical distancing.

By contrast with this policy, when New York State says it is worried about Florida visitors because the disease is running rampant there, the advice is to accept quarantine for 14 days, not ordering the visitor to return.

Our problem is “community contagion” not travel.

Not Official Yet

The proposal would give U.S. border authorities the extraordinary ability to block U.S. citizens and permanent residents from entering from Mexico if an official “reasonably believes that the individual either may have been exposed to or is infected with the communicable disease.”

Comment from federal agencies on this policy was due yesterday, with no timetable yet for making it official.

In recent months, Trump has imposed rules seeking to ban entry by foreigners who are ill, and airlines have started temperature checks and questionnaires for travelers. American citizens and permanent residents had been exempted.

The draft does say that the order must “include appropriate protections to ensure that no constitutional rights are infringed.” And it says that citizens and legal residents cannot be blocked as an entire class of people. The proposal does not detail how long a citizen or a legal resident would be required to remain outside the United States, but says the Centers for Disease Control “expect that any prohibition on the introduction of U.S. citizens or L.P.R.s from abroad would apply only in the rarest of circumstances.”

Is this just another anti-Mexico border closing? Don’t most international visitors arrive by air, even during the pandemic. Isn’t that why Trump has made such a big deal about stopping Chinese visits all that many months ago, an order that exempted Americans and permanent residents. Naturally, New York infections were traced to visits from Europe, not China.

Still, the proposal would be an escalation of his administration’s longstanding attempts to seal the border against what he considers to be any threats.

Once again, disclosure of the proposal brought forth immediate promises to take the matter to court, as with every other border proposal from this administration. Currently, there are no rules allowing such a bar for citizens and legal residents based on disease, but clearly does have authority to set up testing and screening at the border or airports.

Politics at Play?

The new rule applies worldwide, but spends time in the document talking about the Mexican border — again. It’s Trump’s favorite political hobby-horse.

Many American citizens and legal residents cross back and forth frequently, and Mexico has been seeing an increase in Covid-19. But so has the United States. The proposal noted that coronavirus in Mexico “has driven U.S. citizens, L.P.R.s and others from Mexico into the United States to seek care.”

The Times noted that a previous lawsuit was decided against the government in using public health laws to seal the border. The judge, Carl J. Nichols, a Trump appointee, ruled against the government in that case — in part because of the potential implications for American citizens if the practice of blocking border crossings were allowed to continue. Other cases have established a pattern of attempts to further shut the border to immigrants, asylum residents, legal immigrants, migrant children — and various legal actions to halt the policies.

With the coronavirus likely to be with us for at least another year, there is worry that these restrictions will grow more permanent.

What strikes me here is that, once again, Trump is cherry-picking disease without a care for providing appropriate treatment, as justification for his political case for re-election.


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Journalist, musician, community volunteer

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