Border Patrol agents expelling unauthorized immigrants to reduce virus risk

McALLEN — In an effort to minimize risks and exposure to U.S. Border Patrol agents and detainees in detention facilities, agents are immediately expelling people apprehended between ports of entry.

During a call with media members, U.S. Border Patrol officials said this change in operations is meant to reduce the exposure its agents and those held in detention centers have to COVID-19.

Officials said agents encountering people attempting to enter the country illegally, between ports of entry, will process them at a mobile processing unit out in the field, and immediately expel them from the country through the nearest port of entry.

The only exception would be for anyone who has a prior aggravated criminal offense, and is deemed to be a “threat to the U.S. and or Mexico,” the officials said. Those people will be arrested, and taken in to be processed at a detention center.

The switch in procedure with regard to how Border Patrol agents approached newly apprehended persons was expected after DHS announced the travel restrictions at the border.

Officials said Border Patrol agents are supplied with personal protective equipment.

On Friday, DHS announced it would restrict travel at the border to only “essential” travelers.

Essential travel includes, but is not limited to U.S. citizens or permanent residents returning to the U.S., people traveling for medical purposes, in the case of receiving treatment in the U.S., people traveling to attend educational institutions, and those returning to the U.S. in the agriculture and farming industries.

Additionally, anyone traveling as part of an emergency response team, government officials, or emergency responders, and those who work in cross-border trade, such as truck drivers moving cargo between the U.S. and Mexico.

This new restriction is expected to end at midnight April 20, according to a release from DHS.

Non-essential travel is considered to be tourism, or recreational in nature, examples given include sightseeing, gambling or attending a cultural event.

“At this time, this notification does not apply to air, freight rail, or sea travel between the United States and Mexico, but does apply to passenger rail and ferry travel between the United States and Mexico. These restrictions are temporary in nature and shall remain in effect until 11:59 p.m. on April 20, 2020,” the DHS release states.

In part, CBP officials said the ports of entry will still allow entry of “legitimate documented travelers” not subject to previously announced restrictions.

Border Patrol agents will follow this procedure for at least 30 days in conjunction with the travel restriction order from DHS.