SAN DIEGO — Mexicans caught crossing illegally into the United States will be sent to Mexico City rather than back to border cities beginning on Tuesday, according to U.S. Border Patrol.
The decision comes the same day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended a policy that has essentially ended asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. For the past two months, people who cross illegally have been expelled either immediately back to Mexico or quickly to their countries of origin. The Trump administration has said the policy is necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19 inside the United States.
The expulsion policy will go on indefinitely and will be reviewed every 30 days, according to the CDC.
The Trump administration also announced it would extend restrictions on cross-border travel through June 22.
Previously, those caught crossing the border have been immediately returned through ports of entry. Now they will wait in custody and then be flown hundreds of miles south of the border.
As justification for the change, Border Patrol cited an increase of Mexicans repeatedly trying to cross into the United States after the expulsion policy went into effect. Some of those who have been expelled have been caught as many as 10 times, the agency said.
Border Patrol Agent Jarrett Decker, spokesman for the San Diego sector, said 78% of the people who were caught crossing multiple times are Mexican.
In the past, Border Patrol has sometimes sent people who were apprehended in one part of the border to another part for deportation in order to deter future attempts at crossings.
Apprehensions of people caught crossing illegally were down borderwide about 47% in April from the previous month, according to data from Customs and Border Protection, the parent agency of Border Patrol. In the San Diego sector, agents apprehended 2,263 people, down about 52% from March.
Though the flights are intended for people who are expelled from the United States under the CDC health order, according to Decker, they may also include people who are being deported after an immigration judge or border official has ordered them removed from the U.S.
Border Patrol said that the Department of Homeland Security coordinated with the government of Mexico to implement the change.
“The overarching goal of these repatriation flights is to reduce the spread of COVID-19 into the U.S. and reduce the strain on Mexico’s resources along the border,” Border Patrol said in a statement.
Across the border from San Diego, Tijuana has been one of the hardest-hit Mexican cities during the pandemic. More than 400 had died there from the virus by the end of last week, and many believe that COVID-19 deaths across Mexico are significantly undercounted.
Mexico City — where the flights are headed — has the most COVID-19 cases in the country.
Border Patrol said that people will be medically screened and given masks. Anyone with a temperature over 99 degrees or “visible signs of illness” will not be allowed to fly, Decker said.
Central American countries and Haiti have said that many who were deported there from the U.S. ended up testing positive for the virus.
Border Patrol did not answer questions about whether those waiting for flights to Mexico City would be held in the agency’s custody or in ICE custody.
ICE deferred to Customs and Border Protection to comment on the change.
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