Trump admin plans to block asylum seekers from U.S. by citing public health risk of COVID-19

Citing "potential international threats" from pandemics, the Trump admin announced plans to make public health risk a reason to deny asylum to migrants.
Image:
Cesar, an asylum seeker from Nicaragua waits with his wife, Carolina, right, and his eight-year-old son Donovan, to enter the U.S. port of entry to change their asylum court dates on April 6, 2020 in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.Paul Ratje / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Julia Ainsley and Adiel Kaplan

The Trump administration has proposed a new rule that would allow it to deny asylum to immigrants who are deemed a public health risk.

The soon-to-be published rule would let the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice to block immigrants from seeking asylum in the U.S. based on "potential international threats from the spread of pandemics," according to a notice announcing it Wednesday.

The rule would apply to immigrants seeking asylum and those seeking "withholding of removal" — a protected immigration status for those who have shown they more likely than not would face danger if returned to their home countries.

The determination of whether migrants pose a public health risk would be made at the "credible fear" screening — essentially the first interview of the application process to determine an immigrant has a credible fear of returning to their home country — not in immigration court.

The credible fear interview transcript of an asylum seeker in the gated compound where she lives two hours outside of San Salvador, El Salvador on Sept. 6, 2018.Carolyn Van Houten / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

"The United States has among the highest COVID-19 infection rates worldwide, so the real threat of COVID-19 is not outside our nation’s borders but within them," said Jennifer Minear, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "Like the prior CDC order from March that was recently extended indefinitely to ban asylum seekers,  this is an unconscionable attempt to scapegoat vulnerable people who are seeking humanitarian protection under the pre-textual ruse of safeguarding the public health."

Minear stated she considered the proposed rule a move to create a "backstop" in case the courts strike down other immigration limitations the administration has put in place.