(The New York Times) – President Trump is considering new immigration regulations that would allow border officials to temporarily block American citizens and legal permanent residents from returning to the United States from abroad if authorities believe they may be infected with the coronavirus.
In recent months, Mr. Trump has imposed sweeping rules that ban entry by foreigners into the United States, citing the risk of allowing the virus to spread from hot spots abroad. But those rules have exempted two categories of people attempting to return: American citizens and non-citizens who have already established legal residence.
Now, a draft regulation would expand the government’s power to prevent entry by citizens and legal residents in individual, limited circumstances. Federal agencies have been asked to submit feedback on the proposal to the White House by Tuesday, though it is unclear when it might be approved or announced.
Under the proposal, which relies on existing legal authorities of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the government could block a citizen or legal resident from crossing the border into the United States if an official “reasonably believes that the individual either may have been exposed to or is infected with the communicable disease.”
The draft, parts of which were obtained by The Times, explicitly says that any order blocking citizens and legal permanent residents must “include appropriate protections to ensure that no Constitutional rights are infringed.” And it says that citizens and legal residents cannot be blocked as an entire class of people.
The documents appear not to spell out how long a citizen or legal resident would be required to remain outside of the United States.
The draft memo says the prohibition on the introduction of U.S. citizens or legal residents from abroad would apply “only in the rarest of circumstances,” and “when required in the interest of public health, and be limited in duration.”
Still if Mr. Trump approves the change, it would be an escalation of his government’s longstanding attempts to seal the border against what he considers to be threats, using the existence of the coronavirus pandemic as a justification for taking actions that would have been seen as draconian in other contexts.
A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security declined to comment. A spokesman for the C.D.C. said late Monday afternoon that he would seek to gather more information about the proposal.
It is unclear whether there are any existing rules that would allow American citizens and legal residents to be prohibited from returning to the United States for a period of time because of concerns about a communicable disease. Immigration officials have broad authority to deny entry to people based on national security issues.
The rule appears to apply to all points of entry into the United States, including at airports and along both the northern and southern borders. In particular, the draft could impact the border with Mexico, where many American citizens and legal residents cross back and forth frequently.
The rule notes the prevalence of the coronavirus in Mexico as evidence of the need for the modified rule, citing the death on August 2 of the health minister in the Mexican border state of Chihuahua, who the order says died of Covid-19 after a two week hospitalization.
The draft regulation notes the stress that Covid-19 has placed on the Mexican health care system and says it has driven people from Mexico into the United States to seek care.