Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

As seen through fencing, migrants—including a young child—stand while being detained by Department of Homeland Security police after crossing to the U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico border barrier, on June 27, 2019 in El Paso, Texas.

As seen through fencing, migrants—including a young child—stand while being detained by Department of Homeland Security police after crossing to the U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico border barrier, on June 27, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Trump Accused of 'Weaponizing' Pandemic as Administration Weighs Extending Ban on Border Asylum Claims Indefinitely

"This ban was never about the pandemic, and it was never about public health."

Eoin Higgins

A reported move by the White House to indefinitely extend restrictions on crossing the border is generating accusations that President Donald Trump is "weaponizing" the coronavirus pandemic crisis to pursue the most radical elements of his anti-immigration agenda. 

An order under review by the administration would extend Centers for Disease Control (CDC) restrictions on nonessential travel between the U.S. and Mexico and the U.S. and Canada, a move that would cut off migrants seeking asylum from making their claims to the humanitarian protection.

"The Trump administration must end this racist and hateful policy, which has already sent thousands of people into danger and attacked the fundamental right to seek safety," Amnesty International's advocacy director for the Americas Charanya Krishnaswami said in a statement. "Racism, xenophobia, and discrimination won't make people in this country safe from the Covid-19 pandemic."

The proposed order's existence was first reported on Wednesday evening by the New York Times, which noted the plan was "part of a broad effort, led by Stephen Miller, the architect of President Trump's immigration agenda, to aggressively use public health laws to reduce immigration as the government battles the virus."

According to the Times:

Once issued by Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the CDC, the border restrictions would stay in effect until he decides the virus no longer poses a threat. The indefinite extension comes even as Mr. Trump has repeatedly pushed for states to reopen their economies, arguing that the threat from the virus will quickly recede.

[...]

While C.D.C. officials will review the dangers posed by the virus to the American public every 30 days, the new order essentially means that the border will be closed to immigrants until Mr. Redfield explicitly says otherwise—not the other way around.

The news of the proposed order, said Krishnaswami, proves that the "ban was never about the pandemic, and it was never about public health."

"The Trump administration is weaponizing Covid-19 to achieve the policy objective it's sought from day one: shutting the border to people seeking safety," she added.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that only two people seeking humanitarian asylum have been allowed to do so since the initial order on March 21. 

The administration justified the restrictions to the Post as being based in concerns for public health:

Department of Homeland Security officials say the emergency protocols are needed to protect Americans — and migrants — by reducing the number of detainees in U.S. Border Patrol holding cells and immigration jails where infection spreads easily. But the administration has yet to publish statistics showing the impact of the measures on the thousands of migrants who arrive in the United States each year as they flee religious, political or ethnic persecution, gang violence or other urgent threats.

Immigrant rights advocates like immigration law scholar Lucas Guttentag, however, were not buying the White House argument.

"The whole purpose of asylum law is to give exhausted, traumatized, and uninformed individuals a chance to get to a full hearing in U.S. immigration courts, and this makes that almost impossible," Guttentag told the Post. "It's a shameful farce."

Bottom line, said Amnesty's Krishnaswami, is that upholding human rights shouldn't be subject to the whims of the president and his hardline advisors.

"Every person has the right to seek safety, especially during a pandemic," said Krishnaswami. "Attempts by this administration to dismantle that basic right won't fix the administration's failures in responding to the pandemic early and efficiently."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'This Cannot Happen': Biden DHS Seeks Contractor for Migrant Detention Center at Guantánamo Bay

The solicitation for bids—which requires some guards who speak Spanish and Haitian Creole—comes as the administration is under fire for mass deportations of migrants, including thousands of Haitians.

Jessica Corbett ·


Global Vaccine Goals 'Fall Terribly Short' Due to Big Pharma and Rich Nations' Greed: Experts

"Wealthy nations are using up the world's vaccine supply, and developing nations are suffering and losing thousands of people every day."

Brett Wilkins ·


11 Senators Support House Progressives' Push to Pass Full Biden Agenda

"We voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill with the clear commitment that the two pieces of the package would move together along a dual track."

Jessica Corbett ·


Ex-Prisoners Recall US Torture at 'Afghanistan's Abu Ghraib'

"It is psychologically hard for me to recall all that was happening," said one former Bagram Air Base inmate. "The torture was mostly done by Afghans, sometimes the Americans. But the orders came from the U.S."

Brett Wilkins ·


Rapid Shift to Electric Vehicles Could Create Over 150,000 Jobs in US by 2030

A new report says "smart" pro-labor policies by lawmakers would transform the "inevitable" shift to EVs "into a new beginning for U.S. producers and the rebuilding of a foundation for good jobs."

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo