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Trump says he'll block asylum-seekers at U.S.-Mexico border over coronavirus

U.S., Canada close border to non-essential traffic
U.S., Canada close border to non-essential tr... 15:41

President Trump on Wednesday revealed his administration is planning to implement unprecedented measures to block the entry of certain migrants and asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which continues to upend the U.S. economy and American life. 

Asked whether his administration will invoke a law allowing the government to turn away foreigners if the U.S. surgeon general determines they could carry a communicable disease, Mr. Trump replied, "The answer is yes."

The measure, the president added during a briefing at the White House, could be officially announced "very soon, probably today." 

Responding to reports by The New York Times and other outlets that Mr. Trump was considering the move, Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Heather Swift said Tuesday that "all options are on the table."

Virus Outbreak Trump
President Trump speaks during press briefing with the coronavirus task force at the White House on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. Evan Vucci / AP

"President Trump is one hundred percent focused on protecting the American people from the Coronavirus," Swift added in a statement.

Late Tuesday night, Mexico's government said it had not been notified of such a measure, which would entail U.S. border officials turning away migrants and returning them to Mexican territory. "In the event that said proposal is materialized, once we formally receive it, the Government of Mexico will analyze its scope and act in a sovereign manner, in defense of its interests," Mexico's foreign ministry said in a statement. 

Reports of the measure elicited widespread condemnation from immigrant advocates and human right groups, who accused the administration of exploiting the worldwide health crisis to continue its restrictive asylum agenda at the southern border. Advocates also said the move could violate U.S. asylum law and its obligations under international refugee agreements, which bar countries from sending asylum-seekers to places where they may face persecution.

"It is unbelievable that amid this global crisis, they remain consumed by this effort, using the pandemic as an excuse to turn back asylum seekers. Denying asylum seekers their rights will do absolutely nothing to solve this pandemic," Melissa Crow, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Trump announced that non-essential travel across the northern border would also be suspended due to the outbreak.

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