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Under Biden, US still expels many migrants at border

March 15, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: President Joe Biden is not screening immigrants for COVID-19 at the border and is allowing “everyone in no matter what.”

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. February data shows the Biden administration is using a public health rule invoked by the Trump administration to immediately expel more than 70% of people who are apprehended at the border. Though U.S. Customs and Border Protection is not conducting widespread COVID-19 tests, the agency’s protocol is to screen migrants in its custody for COVID symptoms. Asylum seekers who had previously been made to wait in Mexico, however, are required to test negative before they enter the United States.

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THE FACTS: Social media users are falsely claiming that all border crossers are being let in at the border without any COVID-19 screening.

One widely shared Facebook post uses a popular meme of the rapper Drake to suggest when it comes to the policy of “Screen immigrants for COVID on the border,” Biden disapproves. But when it comes to the policy of “Allow everyone in no matter what,” he approves.

In fact, the Biden administration has continued to use an existing public health rule to immediately expel the majority of asylum seekers and border crossers apprehended at the border. The rule, known as Title 42, was first invoked by the Trump administration at the start of the pandemic a year ago.

The Biden administration has suspended the use of Title 42 for unaccompanied migrant children who cross the border without parents or guardians. Under Biden, U.S. Border Patrol has also begun releasing some families into the country with immigration court dates rather than expelling them.

According to Customs and Border Protection data, the agency made more than 100,000 apprehensions in February along the southern border, a 28% increase over January numbers. Of those apprehensions, more than 70 percent resulted in the person being immediately expelled. 

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“First of all, let’s be clear, the border is not open,” Troy Miller, the acting CBP commissioner, told reporters on Wednesday. “We are building an orderly immigration system and doing so in a way that protects public health during the global COVID pandemic.”

In the same call, Miller confirmed some migrant families continue to be expelled under Rule 42, but also acknowledged there were “some intricacies there.” He cited a new policy in Mexico that limits the number of expelled families that some areas near the border will accept. Jessica Bolter, an associate policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, told The Associated Press that the policy change left U.S. authorities “little choice but to process them in the United States.”

CBP said in a statement to AP that due to the pandemic, the agency will continue to “avoid keeping individuals in a congregate setting for any length of time” and that since some facilities have reached “maximum safe holding capacity,” some migrants are being processed and released into the country with immigration court dates. 

“Per longstanding practice, when long-term holding solutions aren’t possible, some migrants will be processed for removal, provided a Notice to Appear, and released into the U.S. to await a future immigration hearing,” the statement reads. These immigrants still face deportation unless they can convince an immigration judge they should be able to legally remain in the country.

As for the claim that migrants are not being screened at the border for COVID-19, Jessica Bolter of the Migration Policy Institute said that is misleading. “There is extensive COVID screening/testing going on at the border, though it may not be universal,” Bolter said.

A negative antigen rapid COVID-19 test has been required for asylum seekers who have entered the United States as the Biden administration began winding down a policy that had forced them to wait in Mexico. As of Wednesday, CBP said it had processed more than 1,000 people from that program. Those asylum seekers may now pursue their cases from within the U.S.

Testing is not routine for other kinds of migrants passing through CBP custody, but the agency said COVID screening is.

“CBP personnel conduct initial inspections for symptoms or risk factors associated with COVID-19 and consult with onsite medical personnel, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or local health systems as appropriate,” a statement from CBP says. The federal agency said it refers suspected COVID-19 cases to local health systems for testing and treatment.

These screening policies were also documented in a March 5 report that was submitted to a judge in a federal court case about conditions for child migrants. The report said children arriving into CBP custody are asked about COVID-19 symptoms, have their temperatures checked and are tested for flu if they have a fever. Those who are negative for flu but continue to have symptoms are referred to local hospitals for COVID-19 testing, according to the report.

As Border Patrol has begun to release some families with court dates in recent weeks, organizations along the border are stepping in to shelter them. Some shelters test migrants for COVID-19. Some cities along the border, like Brownsville, Texas, have set up rapid testing sites for migrants released from Border Patrol custody and are offering places where those who test positive can quarantine.

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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: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536