DHS’s Tone-Deaf Covid Travel Announcement

There are no ‘consistent, stringent’ Covid protocols for ILLEGAL migrants traveling to the United States

By Andrew R. Arthur on October 20, 2021

On October 12, DHS issued a press release laying out a timeline for “non-essential” travelers who have received vaccinations for Covid-19 to be admitted to the United States at land and ferry ports of entry from Canada and Mexico. Comparing the statements therein to the absence of Covid requirements for aliens who have entered illegally reveals how tone-deaf that announcement is.

Formally captioned “Secretary Mayorkas to Allow Fully Vaccinated Travelers from Canada and Mexico to Enter U.S. at Land Borders and Ferry Crossings”, the press release explains that DHS will begin allowing travelers from Canada and Mexico to cross by land and ferry into the United States for non-essential purposes (such as tourism) beginning in November.

Thereafter, beginning in January 2022, all foreign nationals coming to the United States at land and ferry ports will be required to provide proof of vaccination, regardless of whether their entry is for essential or non-essential purposes.

By way of brief background, on March 18, 2020, Canada and the United States closed their border to non-essential travel to stem the spread of Covid. The next day, the White House similarly announced that it had reached a "mutual agreement" with Mexico to restrict non-essential travel across the Southwest border in response to the pandemic.

Those restrictions remain in effect, pending these changes.

While unexceptional by themselves, the new policies are in stark contrast to the Biden administration’s vaccination requirements for migrants crossing the land borders illegally — of which there are none. Further, as I explained in August, illegal migrants are not even tested for Covid before they are released from DHS custody (and almost all are released into the interior).

The responsibility for testing has been borne by local governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), but nothing prevents illegal migrants who test positive for Covid and are placed into voluntary isolation (usually by the same NGOs) from walking away. Further, local officials have complained that they have not been informed that those migrants are being housed in their communities.

Taking this one step further, Reuters has reported that the Biden administration is planning on offering Covid vaccines to detained migrants, but it is not clear whether those plans (which are two months old at this point) have come to fruition.

Just to reiterate: DHS is planning on slowly rolling out a plan to allow legal travelers for non-essential purposes to enter the United States (provided that they are vaccinated), but is doing little to prevent illegal migrants from entering regardless of vaccination status.

But it gets worse, and this is where DHS’s tune increases in dissonance. That press release states: “Travelers will be required to have appropriate paperwork that provides proof of vaccination.”

Again, in isolation, that statement is unexceptional. Under section 212(f) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA), the president is free to bar “the entry of any aliens or class of aliens” whose entry he concludes “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States” (an authority President Trump was oft criticized for using), and unvaccinated travelers plainly fit that bill.

In context, however, DHS’s statement is stunningly discordant given the fact that in FY 2021 alone, the department has released hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants into this country who lacked not just vaccination documentation, but even immigration documentation, despite the fact that the INA makes such documents a condition of admission.

Here’s the kicker in that press release, however. It concludes: “This new travel system will create consistent, stringent protocols for all foreign nationals traveling to the United States — whether by air, land, or ferry — and accounts for the wide availability of COVID-19 vaccinations.” (Emphasis added.)

That statement is demonstrably, incontrovertibly, undeniably, indisputably, and absolutely false.

Through the end of August this fiscal year, Border Patrol has apprehended almost 1.5 million aliens who entered illegally at the Southwest border. Of those, fewer than 938,000 were quickly expelled under orders issued by the CDC under Title 42 of the U.S. Code in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

That leaves more than half a million illegal migrants who were processed under the INA — the vast majority of whom were released into the United States. As explained above, none of them had to show proof of vaccinations, let alone visas and passports, and none were, again, tested by DHS before they were let go.

Who’s writing these press releases?

More importantly, however, what message does this send to the rest of the world when it comes to our immigration system? Enter legally and you can expect to face “consistent, stringent protocols”. Enter illegally, however, and there are no requirements at all, including as pertains to Covid. You may be expelled under Title 42, but even that is increasingly unlikely.

I have questioned the logic of the Biden administration’s Covid travel bans in the past, but am willing to defer to the decisions of public health experts when it comes to restrictions on the entry of potentially contagious individuals into the United States. Immigration is a privilege, after all, and if the CDC decides that they have to show proof of vaccination to be admitted, those are the rules.

If the Biden administration wants to maintain any respect when it comes to its Covid rules, however, it should apply its vaccination requirements to all foreign national travelers to the United States — legal and illegal alike.