The Trump administration announced Monday that it is extending travel and asylum restrictions along the U.S. border for at least one more month, citing the ongoing health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of Homeland Security, announced that Mexico and Canada have agreed to keep the suspension on nonessential travel in place for at least another 30 days.
"As President [Donald] Trump stated last week, border control, travel restrictions and other limitations remain critical to slowing the spread and allowing the phased opening of the country," he said in a press statement.
In addition, a notice previewed Monday in the Federal Register extends a March 20 order by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowing the administration to turn back all migrants who arrive at the border without papers — including asylum seekers and unaccompanied children.
Since the order was issued, more than 11,000 migrants have been summarily expelled without going through the typical legal processes that let them file for asylum or other protections, according to acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark A. Morgan.
It is legal to seek asylum in the United States regardless of whether a person’s entry was authorized. Sending asylum seekers back to harm constitutes what's known as “refoulement” and is forbidden by U.S. and international refugee law.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is “very concerned about systemic and rapid expulsions of persons including asylum seekers crossing U.S. land borders,” the agency’s spokesman, Chris Boian, told CQ Roll Call on Monday.
“We understand that in the current global COVID-19 public health emergency, all governments have an obligation to enact measures to protect the health of their populations,” he said. “While this may warrant extraordinary measures at borders, expulsions of asylum seekers resulting in refoulement should not be among them."
When Trump originally announced the CDC order on March 20, he said it would help prevent a “viral spread at our borders." He invoked a World War II law that permits the president to prohibit “the introduction of persons and property from such countries or places” if deemed likely to introduce communicable illnesses into the country.
According to health researchers tracking the pandemic, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — the countries providing the largest number of migrants to the U.S. southern border — have reported far fewer cases than the United States of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.