CBP defends ‘express’ deportations, blames migrants, smugglers for exposing Americans to COVID-19

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Acting CBP commissioner urges migrants avoid infection hot spots; advocates say Administration using pandemic as excuse to deprive migrants of due process

U.S. Customs and Border Protection operations following the implementation of Title 42 USC 265 at the northern and southern land borders. U.S. Border Patrol agents use personal protective equipment as they prepare to transport a group of individuals encountered near Sasabe, Ariz. to the U.S. Mexico border on March 22, 2020. (CBP Photo by Jerry Glaser)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — The head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection defended a practice of “express deportations,” saying migrants are being irresponsible in trying to enter the country illegally during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Despite the danger posed by COVID-19, illegal immigration continues, putting American lives at risk. Migrants continue to ignore their countries’ stay-at-home guidance and the guidance of global medical experts,” said CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan.

The latest month-to-month report shows apprehensions at the Southwest border more than doubled in July compared to April of this year. (See table below)

Graphic courtesy CBP

Morgan said around 91% of migrants now being apprehended crossing the border illegally are being sent back in as little as two hours.

Speaking at a Thursday teleconference, Morgan said U.S. Border Patrol agents have come across individuals who either volunteered they have the coronavirus or showed related symptoms.

Others who required medical care for dehydration or for injuring sustained while scaling the border wall were taken to hospitals and later proved positive to COVID-19, he said.

Neither those migrants nor others whom the Border Patrol runs across observe safety precautions that have become standard in the United States during the pandemic; that puts agents, medical personnel and others at risk of exposure, he said.

In addition, Border Patrol agents in July stopped trucks with migrants “packed” inside sweltering trailers and CBP officers raided overcrowded and unsanitary stash houses, Morgan said. “These are perfect incubators for COVID-19, with no social distancing, no PPE to stop the spread under these conditions,” he said.

Just on Thursday, CBP reported stopping a commercial truck along U.S. Highway 83 northwest of Laredo, where a search of the cargo area turned up 27 unauthorized migrants.

Morgan maintained that the practice of quickly returning apprehended migrants stems from an order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention known as Title 42.

“They travel long distances, they’re traveling through COVID hot spots in Mexico, a country where COVID-19 deaths and cases continue to rise,” Morgan said. “Whether they know or suspect they have COVID, they’re still coming …”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection operations following the implementation of Title 42 USC 265 at the northern and southern land borders. A group of individuals are returned to Mexico after being encountered by U.S. Border patrol agents near Sasabe, Ariz. on March 22, 2020. (CBP Photo by Jerry Glaser)

Advocates have emphatically questioned a CBP post-pandemic practice of sending migrants back across the border within hours of being apprehended. The practice deprives the migrants, particularly those fleeing persecution in their home countries, from due process, they say.

“It’s regrettable that the Trump administration is using the pandemic as a pretext to continue xenophobic policies that result in the separation of families. They saw the opportunity to apply a strategy of rapid deportations they would not get away with under normal circumstances,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of El Paso’s Border Network for Human Rights.

Garcia said the Trump administration’s COVID-19 policies have been confusing and even counterproductive, as it delayed in promoting the use of face masks and pushed for businesses to reopen in the middle of the pandemic.

“If anything, (the Administration) is to blame for the additional infections and deaths,” he said.

But the CBP acting commissioner said the swift return of migrants to Mexico is helping the agency keep the population low at immigration detention centers, which also reduces the possibility of outbreaks.

“What if we had 20,000 individuals in our custody during the pandemic? That’s what we had last year (in July). It only takes a small number of individuals with COVID to expose many, including our personnel, and overwhelm our health care system,” he said.

CBP in July saw a 75% drop in apprehensions compared to July of 2019, with 78% of the migrants being single males from Mexico, Morgan said. However, the latest fiscal year stats show that apprehensions have more than doubled in July compared to April, going from 16,162 to 38,347.

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