HUENNEKENS: We Need Border Controls To Fight The Coronavirus

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On March 10, the United States confirmed that there are now over 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus. Multiple members of Congress announced they were remaining home to self-quarantine. Separately, the administration may force hundreds of thousands of federal employees to work from home. President Trump declared the virus a national emergency and cities across the country closed public places and banned large gatherings of people to stem the spread of the virus.

This is all to say that the United States is starting to take the coronavirus very seriously. This is not a partisan issue – Democrats and Republicans both claim to understand the severity of this global outbreak now present in 120 countries. Given the scale of the virus, the government should do everything in its power to contain this deadly contagion.

Yet Democrats did the complete opposite by pushing forward dangerous legislation that would have crippled the administration’s ability to protect Americans by restricting travel from certain countries. Speaker Pelosi initially pushed to pass the NO BAN Act, a bill that would reverse President Trump’s earlier travel bans, including the one on Iran, a country with over 9,000 cases and 631 deaths. It would also reverse travel restrictions on countries with weak or nonexistent central governments unable to monitor the virus’ effect in their own states.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise cited this very reason when calling on House Democrats to pull the NO BAN Act from a list of bills to be voted on March 12th. House Democrats planned to push through this brazenly irresponsible bill just two days after officials announced a flurry of new cases throughout the country. They continued to attack President Trump daily over his response to the virus, and yet planned to pass legislation that would make it harder for him to do just that. Finally, after widespread protesting by the GOP minority, the House Democrats pulled the NO BAN Act from the legislative calendar. That is the point where their rhetoric hit the wall of reality.

Senate Democrats are no better. In a Fox News town hall, Senator Bernie Sanders – an independent who caucuses with the Democrats and twice ran for the party’s nomination – asserted that he would not close the border to protect Americans from the virus. Sanders remarked that closing the border would not be an act in the public interest, but rather the “propagating of an anti-immigrant sentiment from before he was elected.” Senator Sanders’ comments came in response to President Trump’s announcement of travel restrictions on Iran, Italy, and South Korea, three countries with widespread coronavirus infections.

Compare this with the President’s response to the crisis. He met with business leaders to demonstrate confidence and strength in the face of this adversity, hoping to calm markets. He dispatched treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin to Capitol Hill to hammer out a bipartisan spending deal to address the virus crisis. And most importantly, he announced travel bans on people coming from Europe, except for American citizens and green card holders. These bans reinforced existing travel restrictions on certain tourists from China, Iran, and South Korea.

This was, undoubtedly, the right thing to do. The President needs to have every tool at his disposal to combat the virus. Even activist immigration lawyers acknowledge that it may be time to suspend entry into the county.  Our southern border is still largely porous due to our outdated asylum laws and processes – thousands of migrants come into contact with Border Patrol agents and asylum officers daily. Further, hundreds of thousands of people cross back and forth daily from the U.S. and Mexico legally. Evaluating the procedures we have at the border right now, what is going to stop widespread infection of Americans if Mexico experiences a coronavirus outbreak in Sonora or Baja California?

It is wishful thinking to imagine that we can continue operating “as is” at our southern border without encountering migrants with coronavirus. And what would we do if they arrived at our ports of entry? Worse, what can we do if they illegally enter and avoid detection by the Border Patrol? If coronavirus is as dangerous as health officials say, then there is no sound argument against instituting strong border controls.

This is not the time for partisan games. Democrats cannot flippantly cast aside the legitimate use of travel restrictions and border controls during a public health crisis. That House Democrats would even think to pass the NO BAN Act suggests that they are motivated only by an animus against the President which taints their thinking before all else, even the safety of Americans. We need strong borders and travel restrictions to fight the coronavirus. The President understands this. Why don’t Democratic leaders?

Preston Huennekens is a government relations associate at Federation for American Immigration Reform