Published: May 19, 2020, Updated: May 19, 2020
The Trump Administration has indicated it is planning to extend new US border controls related to COVID-19 for an indefinite period. Critics have accused the president of using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to tighten US immigration laws further and it is believed that he now intends to extend a ban on migrants until the health officials deem the public health crisis to be over. White House advisers are currently taking conflicting views on immigration policies.
A public health order has been drafted that will restrict entry to the United States for an indeterminate period. If the draft version is implemented, it will have potential impacts on refugees fleeing war, violence, or persecution that are seeking to enter the US. They may find themselves stranded at the borders of Mexico or Canada.
The United States has the greatest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the world. Over 1.5 million people have been infected and over 90,000 have died from COVID-19, whether as a direct result of the disease or because of other health complications caused by the illness. US Customs and Border Protection see the threat posed by this pandemic as justifying the need for increased border controls.
On March 21st, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), imposed a 30-day restriction on all non-essential travel to the United States from Mexico and Canada. Legal points of entry were closed to leisure travelers and people attempting to enter the US illegally were returned immediately, either to their home countries or to Mexico. According to figures from USCIS, only two migrants have been granted permission to remain since the restriction was implemented.
On April 20th, the original period of restricted travel was extended by an additional 30 days. Critics argue that this is a move by the Trump Administration to use the fight against the spread of coronavirus as a weapon in carrying out plans to limit immigration.
The new travel restrictions are currently under review but may well remain in force until the CDC determines that COVID-19 is no longer a threat to public health. Already, naturalization ceremonies and thousands of green card applications have been canceled or blocked.
Seasonal workers, meat packers, and farmworkers are among the categories of occupations deemed to be essential during the COVID-19 pandemic and temporary work visas have been issued to applicants in these sectors. A two month period of grace to submit required documentation has also been granted to people who applied for green cards and US work visas before the pandemic started.
The United States Department of Homeland Security, (DHS) insists on extending the period of border restrictions to reduce the spread of coronavirus in detention centers for immigrants. While the current restrictions on entry are due to expire on May 21st, the administration has yet to comment on this proposal.
While the CDC has not explained the exact criteria used in the extension of restrictions on travel, they have also been used to justify refusing entry to children and minors crossing the border, whereas they would previously have been sent to a Refugee Resettlement shelter.
Amnesty International claims that the travel restrictions were never about public health or restricting the spread of the virus but were aimed at closing the border to asylum seekers and many other migrants.
According to USCIS statistics, only 59 migrants have been granted asylum interviews since the restrictions were first implemented on 21st March, and of these, only two were granted permission to remain in the United States. Three migrants have cases pending. Since March 21st, the United States has used public health laws to refuse entry to over 20,000 people seeking to cross the US-Mexican border.