Trump administration uses coronavirus to justify banning asylum-seekers

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Donald Trump wants to send asylum-seekers back to Mexico with no due process and no opportunity to plead their case.

The Trump administration is planning to implement a new plan to immediately send back all asylum-seekers trying to enter the United States from Mexico, the New York Times reported on Tuesday. The move would be yet another instance of the administration using the coronavirus crisis to attack vulnerable populations.

According to the Times, anyone seeking to enter the United States anywhere other than a port of entry would be returned to Mexico without being detained and with no due process. U.S. citizens, green-card holders, and those with documentation would still reportedly be allowed in the country, and commercial traffic would not be impacted.

Four administration officials confirmed that the new policy could be implemented in the next 48 hours, with officials claiming that fear of coronavirus spreading through detention centers is the reason for the policy. The Times noted that the details of the new rule could change before the official announcement.

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Neither Customs and Border Protection nor Immigration and Customs Enforcement have reported any confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, at their detention facilities. One employee at an ICE facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey, recently underwent testing for the virus after reporting feeling unwell but there have been no cases of the virus reported there so far.

Both agencies said earlier this month that they had put measures in place to protect both detainees and federal workers.

Neither CBP nor the White House responded to a request for comment.

Trump has used the coronavirus to justify previous crackdowns on immigrants, whom he has targeted repeatedly since taking office.

In early March, he claimed the COVID-19 outbreak proved the necessity of a wall along the U.S-Mexico border.

"We need the Wall more than ever!" Trump tweeted on March 10 in response to a separate post about the coronavirus epidemic.

There is no scientific proof to back up those xenophobic fears. The idea that migrants are disease carriers is not only false, but is often rooted in racist propaganda.

"There is no evidence to show that migrants are spreading disease," Paul Spiegel, director of the Center for Humanitarian Health at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, told NBC News in 2018 after completing a two-year study on the subject. "That is a false argument that is used to keep migrants out."

Spiegel and the team of researchers on that study found in fact that immigrants were "less likely than people in their host countries to die of heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases and other ills." And when infectious diseases did spread, it was typically due to poor detention conditions.

"It’s not migrants or migration itself that is spreading disease. It may be the situations that they are in and the lack of access to basic care that may exacerbate the situation," he said.

Both CBP and ICE have been condemned in the past for unsanitary and overcrowded conditions in their respective facilities. Officials with both organizations have refused to answer questions about what has been done so far to prevent dangerous overcrowding and unsanitary facilities amid the outbreak, beyond saying they are following CDC guidance.

In addition to using the COVID-19 outbreak to crack down on immigration, Trump has embraced racist terminology to describe the virus, despite health experts warning that such language has detrimental effects.

Trump insists on calling the new coronavirus the "China virus" in speeches and in tweets. Health experts with the World Health Organization have warned against naming infectious diseases after geographic locations, saying that doing so "has had unintended negative impacts by stigmatizing certain communities or economic sectors."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also warned that contributing to stigma during the current pandemic "hurts everyone by creating more fear or anger towards ordinary people instead of the disease that is causing the problem."

By singling out certain segments of the population, Trump and others "are telling people who to fear and who to hate," Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chairwoman Judy Chu, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquin Castro, Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Karen Bass, and Congressional Native American Caucus Co-Chair Deb Haaland said in a joint statement on March 17.

The congressional leaders urged "all leaders to stick to expert guidance and not spread xenophobia."

"Lives depend on it," they added.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.