The ACLU and other civil rights organizations have been quick to condemn the proposed policy as blatantly unconstitutional.
The Trump administration is considering new immigration rules that would let authorities block U.S. citizens from entering the country if they are suspected of having coronavirus.
The proposal—first reported by The New York Times—is the White House’s latest attempt to crack down on international travel amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. While President Donald Trump has previously sought to limit entry to the United States for a wide range of coronavirus-related reasons, his administration has yet to place any restrictions on citizens.
But on Tuesday, the White House submitted a draft proposal to do just that. The administration has requested that federal agencies provide rapid feedback.
If approved, the policy’s enforcement will be based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s existing legal authorities. To protect the public health, government officials would be able to block citizens “reasonably” believed to “have been exposed to […] or infected with a communicable disease” from entering the country.
However, it is uncertain how long the administration would be able to keep U.S. citizens out.
According to the CDC, such a rule can be constitutional only if its enforcement is sparing.
“C.D.C. expects that any prohibition on the introduction of U.S. citizens or L.P.R.s from abroad would apply only in the rarest of circumstances,” the White House’s draft proposal states. Such prohibitions are legal only “when required in the interest of public health, and… limited in duration.”
Civil rights advocates have already signaled opposition to the suggested rule, saying it is not constitutional to deny citizens from returning home. In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union said that the latest proposal appears to be yet another escalation in the administration’s attempts to seal borders.
“The Trump administration has rolled out one border ban after another—most recently on children and asylum-seekers—using COVID-19 as an excuse, while failing abysmally to get the virus under control in the United States,” ACLU Immigrant Rights Project Director Omar Jadwat said. “The rumored order would be another error in a year that has already seen too many.”
The BBC notes that, while the Trump administration’s proposal would allow officials to block Americans coming into the United States at any port-of-entry, it appears focused on curbing crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border.
While the U.S. currently prohibits Mexican nationals from traveling to the United States for non-essential purposes, exceptions are granted for American citizens returning home. Other exceptions are in place for essential travelers, including workers, humanitarian missions, and people in need of medical treatment.
Trump, adds the Times, may be fearful of dual U.S.-Mexican nationals coming to the United States for coronavirus treatment.
“As noted, the stress that Covid-19 has placed on the Mexican health care system has driven U.S. citizens, L.P.R.s and others from Mexico into the United States to seek care,” the proposal says.