Commuters heading to the US line up on the Mexican side of the San Ysidro crossing port at the US-Mexico border in Tijuana, Mexico, on March 12 2020. Picture: AFP/GUILLERMO ARIAS
Commuters heading to the US line up on the Mexican side of the San Ysidro crossing port at the US-Mexico border in Tijuana, Mexico, on March 12 2020. Picture: AFP/GUILLERMO ARIAS

Washington — The Trump administration is considering immediately returning any foreigners caught at the US-Mexico border to Mexico, arguing that the step is necessary to combat the fast-spreading coronavirus, according to two administration officials.

The measure, which remains under discussion, would apply to migrants caught crossing the illegally outside ports of entry and would not affect legal immigration or commercial traffic, the officials said.

However, two other officials, with the US department of homeland security (DHS) and US customs and border protection (CBP), dispute that removing all foreigners caught at the border to Mexico is under consideration.

The Mexican government, meanwhile, said late on Tuesday that it has not received any formal proposal from US officials, according to a brief statement from the country’s foreign ministry. The statement also said that Mexico would analyse the reach of any such proposal, pledging to act in defence of its own interests, public health and human rights.

The possible US administration move, first reported by The New York Times, would likely face court challenges and may require the co-operation of the Mexican government.

The Trump administration has sought to escalate its response to the coronavirus in recent weeks as the disease has spread across the US, causing schools and businesses to shutter while killing more than 100 people nationwide.

The DHS and CBP officials said separately on Tuesday that US border officials would step up returns of Mexican nationals caught crossing the border illegally through an existing authority known as a “voluntary return”. Under this practice, US officials can offer Mexican nationals caught at the border the option to return to Mexico as an alternative to formal deportation proceedings in the US.

“If we return people immediately without taking them back to our processing centres, then you’re minimising the exposure,” the CBP official said.

All four officials requested anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the plans.

Immigrant rights groups slammed the idea of mass returns of foreign nationals to Mexico. “People fleeing violence from Mexico and Central American countries are actually at greater the risk of contracting coronavirus in the US than in their home countries at this point,” said Linda Rivas, executive director at advocacy group Las Americas in El Paso.

Mexico has reported 82 coronavirus cases so far, compared with nearly 6,000 in the US.

The US already sends non-Mexican asylum seekers to that country under a programme known as the migrant protection protocols (MPP). The US supreme court allowed that programme to remain in effect last week, pending the outcome of a legal challenge.

In a separate move on Tuesday, the Guatemalan government said on Tuesday that it has suspended the entrance of deportation flights from the US amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.

Reuters

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