Under the cover of the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump has escalated his administration's immigration crackdown by harnessing a federal law allowing Border Patrol agents to expel migrants seeking asylum without process for their claims, new reporting reveals.
"This is cruel and unnecessary. We cannot allow the administration to use the COVID-19 pandemic to demolish our tradition of asylum—any national response must be based in science, not racism and xenophobia," the ACLU wrote on Twitter of the move last Friday.
The regulation takes advantage of provisions of the Public Health Service Act empowering the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to bar people who could pose "a serious danger" by bringing in a communicable disease entry to the U.S.
The U.S. has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world—over 432,000 as of this writing.
— ProPublica (@propublica) April 3, 2020
The AP framed the new regulation as the government's "most aggressive border crackdowns ever" that rejects "decades-old national and international laws." ProPublica reported that the regulation gives Border Patrol "unchallengeable authority over migrants seeking asylum."
The Trump administration has given "little detail on the rule," which allows for Border agents to "take migrants to the nearest border crossing in specially designated vehicles and avoid stations," AP added.
An estimated 7,000 migrants have already been expelled to Mexico in the last two weeks.
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The asylum ban extends to children traveling with relatives other than their parents or guardians, a departure from previous policy which had directed such children into the asylum process.
A Border Patrol agent isn't required to ask if a migrant will face torture if returned, and while a migrant may put forth "spontaneously" that information, it's still no guarantee of entry. From ProPublica:
the guidance provided to Border Patrol agents makes clear that asylum-seekers are being turned away unless they can persuade both a Border Patrol agent—as well as a higher-ranking Border Patrol official—that they will be tortured if sent home. There is no exception for those who seek protection on the basis of their identities, such as race or religion.
Under the Refugee Convention, which the U.S. signed onto in 1968, countries are barred from sending someone back to a country in which they could be persecuted based on their identity (specifically, their race, nationality, religion, political opinion or membership in a "particular social group").
Responding to the reporting, the National Center for Transgender Equality said, "This is appalling news for migrants."
"Trans people are more likely to seek asylum and face high levels of violence ad persecution around the world. They deserve the protections given to them under U.S. law. This must be addressed!" the group wrote.
Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel for the American Immigration Council, suggested the Trump White House is simply fulfilling a long-standing goal.
"The administration is able to do what they always wanted to do," he told AP. "I don't see this slowing down."