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Progress, but the COVID-19 “beast is still alive”

The Trump administration on Monday announced it is extending a sweeping public health order that border officials have been using to expel thousands of unauthorized migrants and asylum-seekers who the government says could spread the coronavirus if allowed into the U.S.

The order by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, which was first issued on March 20, invoked a World War II law that allows the government to deny entry to foreigners it deems could “introduce” an infectious disease into the country. Through a notice published Monday, CDC Director Robert Redfield extended the order for another 30 days. 

Not extending it, Redfield wrote, “would be counterproductive and dangerous,” undermining efforts to contain the deadly coronavirus pandemic “by permitting the introduction of persons outside the United States who pose a risk of transmission of COVID-19 within DHS facilities or the U.S. interior.”­

Bypassing U.S. immigration and asylum laws, border officials expelled more than 6,300 migrants, including unaccompanied children, from the U.S. southern border in March. Earlier this month, Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan said his officials had expelled more than 11,000 people to Mexico or their home countries under the public health order.

Morgan and other top officials have maintained the order is designed to avert coronavirus outbreaks inside Border Patrol stations, which they say would strain public health resources along the borderlands. But human rights groups and immigrant advocates say the U.S. is abdicating its obligations under U.S. law and international treaties to offer humanitarian protections to those fleeing persecution.

“It’s obvious that the Trump administration is exploiting a serious public health crisis to achieve its long-held goal of closing the border to asylum seekers,” Ruthie Epstein, a policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. 

Separately, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Monday announced it would be extending the restrictions on non-essential travel along the country’s land borders with Canada and Mexico for another 30 days. The measures do not ban commercial traffic or affect U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

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