Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration plans to shut the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada as soon as this week to asylum seekers and other foreigners who don’t have permission to enter the U.S., the Wall Street Journal reports. Ports of entry would be open to U.S. citizens, permanent residents and foreigners with legal permission to enter. Foreigners covered by President Donald Trump’s existing travel restrictions on China and Europe are already not permitted to enter. Migrants crossing the southern border between legal ports of entry, including those claiming asylum, would be swiftly returned to Mexico by the Border Patrol. In a tweet Wednesday, President Donald Trump said “temporarily” closing the U.S.-Canada border would not affect trade.
The administration will cite a public-health law that allows immigration officials to deny entry to foreigners who pose a risk of spreading infectious diseases. The government is expected within the next two days to publish a rule that would take immediate effect. It wouldn’t require congressional approval, though it could face legal challenges. The Justice Department has said all immigration hearings for immigrants not detained in immigration jails have been postponed until at least April 10. Border Patrol stations have always been vulnerable to disease outbreaks because of cramped conditions. During the height of last year’s migrant crisis at the border, agents struggled to quarantine migrants who arrived ill with the flu or even severe colds. Experts said the plan poses legal pitfalls. Migrants who claim a fear of returning to their home countries cannot be returned without first weighing the legitimacy of that claim. The experts added the administration would be on safer legal footing if it opted to close ports of entry entirely, a scenario some border authorities have been anticipating as the coronavirus outbreak worsens.