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Exceptions to US Border Expulsion Policy Fail to Address Flaws

Thousands Have Been Expelled Under Abusive Policy

A migrant family crosses the border into El Paso, Texas, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. © Christian Chavez/AP Photo

The New York Times reported last week that the United States would lift a public health bar on migrants crossing the border into the country for families, but that it would keep expelling single adults, at least until the end of the summer. The US has expelled single adults more than 262,000 times under the rule. And many of them, including Black and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and adults with disabilities, are as vulnerable as the family members now being allowed to enter.

While the exemption is good news for children and families, the ongoing bar on single people is both wrongheaded and nonsensical and shows the absurdity of the policy.

The foundation for this policy, rolled out under the administration of former President Donald Trump, is the Public Health Service Act of 1944, which was designed to confer quarantine authority to health authorities that would apply to everyone, including US citizens, arriving from a foreign country. Quarantine authority was never meant to be used to pick and choose who could or couldn’t be expelled.

So, by barring only irregular border crossers, the Trump administration had already turned the public health rationale on its head. And while the move by President Joe Biden’s administration to ease restrictions is welcome, the policy makes no more sense now with this exemption in place, and remains as arbitrary and ill-advised as it did under the Trump administration.

Ask yourself: Is a person traveling with their family any more or less likely to be infected by Covid-19 than a person traveling alone? For that matter, is a person crossing a land border on foot more likely to be infected than someone arriving by plane, who is not subject to expulsion under this policy? Or, as a matter of public health, does citizenship status have any bearing on infection?

The scientific, public-health rationale for these expulsions has always been specious. This exemption makes the contradictions all the more obvious and shows the Biden administration using public health as a cover for politically driven policies that demonstrate more concern for partisan criticism than for public health, the right of any person to seek asylum, or just plain logic.  

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