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US border is not open to those without legal permission

March 31, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Americans need a passport to leave the country but “illegal aliens” do not need one to enter.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. People trying to enter the U.S. must show proof they are an American citizen or provide documents showing they have permission to enter the country. The law also allows for those without documents who have a credible fear of returning to their home country to enter and apply for asylum. During the pandemic, however, most people encountered trying to cross the border have been immediately expelled without seeing a judge. In recent weeks, some families who are not expelled have been placed in removal proceedings.


THE FACTS: The number of people encountered attempting to cross the border has been rising since April and last month surpassed 100,000, the highest level since before the pandemic and on track to hit a 20-year high. 

Online posts are misrepresenting Biden administration policies, falsely claiming the border is open to everyone.

In reality, during the pandemic, the borders between the U.S. and Canada and the U.S. and Mexico are both closed to nonessential travel, meaning even some visitors with valid visas are not allowed in.

A popular Facebook post is missing key context when it asks, “Why do I need a passport to leave the USA when Illegal Aliens are not required to have one to enter?”

In fact, any person who seeks to enter the U.S. must prove they are either an American citizen or have documents showing the U.S. government has authorized them to enter the country. 

Those who attempt to enter the country without such documentation face consequences, said Leon Fresco, an immigration attorney and a former Justice Department official focused on immigration policy, 

“Those people are placed in expedited removal proceedings immediately,” Fresco said. “That is required by law.” They are often swiftly deported, unless they have a credible fear of returning to their country. In that case, the law allows them to remain in the U.S. to ask for asylum.


However, during this pandemic, border officials are often immediately expelling people who attempt to enter through the Southwest border without permission, and ports of entry are closed to asylum seekers. The Biden administration is using Title 42, a public health rule put in place by the Trump administration at the start of the pandemic, to expel most single adults and some families encountered at the border.

The Biden administration discontinued a policy that expelled unaccompanied children who cross the border without parents, after the practice was first halted by a federal judge late last year. And after Mexico stopped accepting some expelled migrant families, border officials are releasing some migrant families into the U.S. to await their deportation hearings rather than expelling them. 

But these minors and families are still subject to deportation unless after an immigration hearing a judge rules they have a valid claim to stay legally in the United States.

“We place those families in immigration proceedings. And if in fact they do not have a claim for relief under the law, they are to be, and will be, returned,” said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayoraks, during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing earlier this month. 

In recent weeks, the influx of arriving children and families has led to overcrowded facilities and left the Biden administration scrambling to open new facilities.


This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: