A Border Patrol agent wouldn’t let Jackeline Reyes explain why she and her 15-year-old daughter needed asylum, citing the coronavirus. The Trump administration has shut down the nation’s asylum system for the first time in decades in the name of public health. ‘The agent told us about the virus and that we couldn’t go further, but she didn’t let us speak or anything,’ said Reyes, 35, who was shuttled to a crossing in Reynosa, Mexico, a violent border city, the Associated Press reports. The U.S. used an obscure public health law to justify one of its most aggressive border crackdowns ever. People fleeing violence and poverty to seek refuge in the U.S. are whisked to the nearest border crossing and returned to Mexico without a chance to apply for asylum.
It eclipses President Donald Trump’s other policies to curtail immigration by setting aside decades-old national and international laws. The administration has offered little detail on the rules that, unlike its other immigration policies, have yet to be challenged in court. The secrecy means the rules got little attention as they took effect March 20, the same day Trump announced the southern border was closed to nonessential travel. The administration tapped a law allowing the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ban foreigners if their entry would create ‘a serious danger’ to the spread of communicable disease. The U.S. has the most cases in the world by far. CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield issued a 30-day order but may extend it. In less than two weeks, the U.S. has expelled more than 7,000 people. Those not sent to Mexico are flown to their home countries. There were 300 people in custody last week, down from a peak of more than 19,000 during last year’s surge of border crossers.