Trump administration limits non-essential travel between US and Mexico

Posted at 10:51 AM, Mar 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-20 12:51:52-04

The Trump administration is limiting non-essential travel on the US-Mexico border in an effort to curb movement amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Citing the "unscreened" and "unvetted" people who come into the US from the southern border, President Donald Trump said the border would be sealed off "mostly, and even beyond, but mostly during this global pandemic."

The action on the southern border is similar to the one taken on the US border with Canada and marks the latest move by the administration to seal off the United States as coronavirus continues to spread.

"We're working with both our Canadian partners as well as our Mexican partners to put some restrictions on the travel across that border, really looking at limiting nonessential travel across that border," acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told reporters Friday at the White House. "We want to make sure cargo continues, trade continues, healthcare workers continue to be able to traverse that border. But tourism, some recreational activities and other things need to stop during this crisis."

Over recent weeks, Trump has joined countries across the globe in introducing a slate of travel restrictions, which extend from China to Europe's Schengen Area to the United Kingdom and Ireland, over coronavirus concerns. In a span of a few days, Trump has also moved to largely shutter the US land borders.

The US and Mexico have been coordinating on a plan to restrict non-essential travel across the border. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard discussed the plans during a call on Thursday, according to a readout from State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus.

Friday morning, Ebrard said, "After the meetings we have had, very intense and long last two days and nights, what has been achieved is that the measures for reducing the risk of propagation of the virus will not affect the substantive economy activities of Mexico and the United States and of the border region."

Ebrard also maintained that all "essential movements that shouldn't be affected."

Thousands of people cross the US-Mexico border daily for work, school and other activities.

Mexico confirmed its first coronavirus-related death on Wednesday. The patient, who also had diabetes, began showing symptoms of the coronavirus on March 9, according the country's health ministry. Mexico has 93 coronavirus cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

On Thursday, the United States and Canada announced plans to suspend nonessential travel between the two countries because of the pandemic.Trump tweeted: "We will be, by mutual consent, temporarily closing our Northern Border with Canada to non-essential traffic. Trade will not be affected. Details to follow!"

Migrants ban

Trump has previously floated closing the southern border to bar entry to migrants. With the coronavirus pandemic, immigration hardliners have seen an opportunity to accomplish some of the administration's most restrictionist immigration policies, like denying entry to all asylum seekers.

The administration will also begin returning all migrants who cross the borders illegally. At the direction of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Homeland Security will suspend entry of all migrants seeking to enter the US without proper travel documentation -- for both the northern and southern border.

As of midnight Friday, Customs and Border Protection officers and agents will immediately return to Canada and Mexico migrants who cross the border illegally or do not have proper documentation at the legal land border crossings.

In its response to the pandemic, the administration has made sweeping changes to the country's immigration apparatus, altering daily operations and disrupting the lives of thousands.

In a little over a week, there have been a dozen changes, ranging from postponing immigration hearings to pausing deportation flights to certain countries and suspending refugee admissions.

The tweaks to the system are being made incrementally, though rapidly, as the pandemic spreads across the country.