President Donald Trump is seriously considering using his executive authority to impose travel restrictions along the border with Mexico to curb the spread of the new COVID-19 coronavirus inside the United States, Reuters reported Saturday. Critics of the administration immediately insinuated that Trump was politicizing the global pandemic and capitalizing on his emergency powers in order to boost his re-election campaign
The report, sourced from two Homeland Security (DHS) officials who spoke with the outlet on the condition of anonymity, comes after the Mexican government on Friday confirmed that three of its citizens had been diagnosed with the virus. All the of Mexican citizens found to be carrying the virus had recently traveled to Italy where the coronavirus is far more prevalent.
The officials also confirmed that DHS had begun drafting a variety of responses to combat the spread of the virus domestically and abroad, including adding travel restrictions on the entry of travelers from South Korea, Italy and Japan.
Ted Hesson, the journalist who first reported the story, also said that DHS is considering several other methods aimed at containing the virus.
“The discussions over possible border restrictions remain in the preliminary phase,” Hesson wrote, “but the DHS has considered increased screening of people from certain countries based on that country’s medical capacity and volume of travelers to the US, according to one of the officials.”
Asked about the prospect of closing the southern border during Saturday afternoon’s press conference on the administration’s response to the coronavirus, President Trump confirmed Reuters’s reporting, saying “the courts” had given his administration a lot of authority to control border crossings.
“We are looking also southern border,” Trump said.
“And yes, we are thinking about southern border. We have received a lot of power on the southern border over the last couple of years from the courts, but we are looking at that very strongly.”
Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon quickly pointed out that if Trump were truly concerned about the spread of the virus, he was looking at the wrong border.
“There are 5x as many confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Canada as Mexico,” Merkley wrote.
“Why isn’t Donald Trump focused on our northern border? I’ll give you three guesses but you’ll only need one.”
Vox’s senior political correspondent Matthew Yglesias said, “it seems like Mexico closing the border to travelers from the US would make more sense.”
Ben Rhodes, a former senior advisor to President Barack Obama, noted that President Trump’s penchant for making false statements should leave people skeptical of the true motivations behind any border closing:
Attorney and legal journalist Chris Geidner also said the administration had “lost all benefit of the doubt as to its motives when it comes to the southern border.”
[Image via Alex Wong/Getty Images.]
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