The U.S. government is extending until May 20, 2020 restrictions first put in place on March 20th suspending normal operation of law and procedures at the borders between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico due to COVID-19. The original restrictions were to expire on April 20th. The most recent announcement extends the restrictions for another 30 days.
The policy exempts and allows entry of U.S. citizens, permanent residents, U.S. military personnel and their families, and valid visa holders or those who otherwise are legally authorized to enter and not otherwise subject to other COVID-19 “non-essential travel” restrictions.
As a practical matter, the announced extension applies to people trying to enter the U.S. without visas. While purportedly grounded in public health concerns due to COVID-19’s presence in both Canada and Mexico, those who are exempt from the policy are as likely to have been exposed to and be carrying COVID-19 into the U.S. as any others trying to enter. And those who don’t have visas to whom the restrictions apply typically arrive at the southern border, and in recent years, overwhelmingly have been asylum seekers.
The policy means that the U.S. can reject these individuals who have fled persecution, and turn them back into Mexico without any due process at all, such as a chance to ask for asylum as allowed under U.S. law, and to be scheduled for an interview with an asylum officer to determine whether they have a “credible fear” of persecution that merits a hearing before an immigration judge. Even unaccompanied children are being rejected.
The administration has taken multiple steps in the past three years to curtail asylum seekers’ rights to ask for protection in the U.S., spawning multiple ongoing lawsuits. The pandemic appears to have provided the basis for removing any last vestiges of due process for asylum seekers arriving at our southern border.
For a view into the voyage that many make to reach the U.S., border with Mexico in hopes of requesting asylum, including many of the African asylum seekers who arrived in Maine via the southern border in 2019, see this article in California Sunday Magazine.