President Donald Trump is reportedly considering a proposal that would allow border officials to temporarily block U.S. citizens or legal residents from entering the country if authorities believe they may be infected with the coronavirus, an extraordinary step as the county grapples with the ongoing pandemic.
The New York Times first reported Monday evening that the White House had been circulating a draft regulation that would expand the government’s authority to prevent entry by Americans and legal residents in limited circumstances. The news comes as confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. topped 5 million on Sunday. More than 163,000 people have now died due to the virus and infections are still rising in some states.
The proposal relies on the authority of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect the country, the Times reports, noting border officials could block anyone from entering the U.S. if they reasonably believed “that the individual either may have been exposed to or is infected with the communicable disease.”
The Washington Post added later Monday that medical officials say increased border restrictions would do little to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S., as many regions are already seeing widespread community transmission.
It’s unclear if the White House has the legal standing to bar Americans or legal residents from coming back to their own country, and the Times notes a draft copy of the order says any potential regulation must “include appropriate protections to ensure that no constitutional rights are infringed.”
But it would be the latest effort by the Trump administration to use the coronavirus pandemic to rein in immigration and border entry procedures. During the course of the outbreak, the president has moved to limit entry from China and most of Europe, blocked entry to foreigners on skilled worker visas and tried to mandate overseas students leave the country if their universities only held online classes due to the virus (that change was rescinded under fierce opposition).
The Times, which obtained a copy of the proposal, said it appears to impact all ports of entry into the United States and could home in on the U.S. border with Mexico, where many Americans and legal residents regularly cross back and forth.
“As noted, the stress that COVID-19 has placed on the Mexican health care system has driven U.S. citizens, L.P.R.s and others from Mexico into the United States to seek care,” the draft reads.
The news has already prompted a swift rebuke from civil rights groups.
“Barring American citizens from the United States is unconstitutional,” the ACLU wrote on Twitter. “The Trump administration has rolled out one border ban after another using COVID-19 as an excuse, while failing abysmally to get the virus under control.”
The U.S. has continued to struggle with surges of the coronavirus after an economically devastating lockdown across many states earlier in the pandemic. Trump has continued to urge states to reopen their economies, told schools to let students attend in-person classes and called for college football games to go ahead as planned.
But such efforts have been difficult. A report released on Sunday found nearly 100,000 children in the U.S. tested positive for COVID-19 in the last two weeks of July alone, underscoring the difficulty schools face as they consider how they can reopen in the fall.
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