Trump Border COVID-19 Directive Ignored, Essential Travel Defined By Some As ‘Groceries, Family and Gas’

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at many Ports of Entry are still allowing people from Mexico and Canada to enter the United States through the ports of entry, suggesting that claims they are traveling to buy groceries, pharmaceuticals and gas is considered ‘essential travel,’ despite President Donald Trump’s directive to limit the flow of travelers during the coronavirus crisis.

Last week, the Trump administration implemented a directive that CBP’s Office of Field Operations officers at Ports of Entry, were supposed to begin turning all non U.S. citizens back at 9 p.m. PT Friday, unless it was for essential travel, student or they had a permit to work in the country. Over the weekend The Washington Examiner first published a story noting that CBP officers were continuing to let non-essential travelers into the United States through the Ports of Entry.

Even though the Examiner updated its story and was told that the situation was rectified over the weekend by Department of Homeland Security officials, Patricia Cramer, who is President of the Arizona chapter of the National Treasury Employee Union representing U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers and Agriculture Specialists at the Arizona Port of Entries, told it’s not.

She said the majority of POEs, not all, continue to let non-essential travelers through, supervisors aren’t on the same page regarding the administration’s directive and she is concerned for the health and safety of the CBP port of entry officers.

“While the rest of the country is being told to voluntarily – and in some cases mandatory lockdown – we have people coming in and out of the border as they please and our front line officers and agents are being exposed,” said Cramer. “The agency is interpreting the White House directives the way that they want. That’s why this is happening.”

Cramer said, many travelers coming across the border came to visit family and some have stayed for days. She noted that there is no viable way to track the travelers foreign travel or if they may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

DHS officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

CBP POE officers in Arizona have raised concerns about possible exposure and “anybody can pass through because it’s really hard to determine if any of the foreign nationals have traveled outside of Mexico or Canada because all they have to show is their border crossing card,” Cramer said.

“This is a problem for our officers who worry they might be exposed and then expose their families to the virus,” she added. “If one of our officers goes down due to the virus then all the officers may go down at any particular point of entry due to the virus. This could be a potentially bad situation.”

The CBP Port of Entry officers aren’t the only ones concerned but Border Patrol agents  during the coronavirus crisis, said Art del Cueto, vice president for the National Border Patrol Council and the leader of the local chapter in Arizona.

He noted that frontline agents are getting mixed messages about what steps need to be taken if they believe they’re exposed to coronavirus.

“The Union has taken the roll of explaining to the workforce the different procedures that should be followed due to the coronavirus,” said del Cueto, who added that the agents are doing an incredible job mitigating illegal migrants at the border.

He did, however, note the frustration among agents who are concerned that not enough is being done on the part of partner agencies, like Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to ensure that people apprehended at the border from nations “other than Mexico” are being returned.

“We had a situation, yesterday, where 16 people from India were apprehended,” said del Cueto. “Some of their passports were stamped in Italy and Spain, where coronavirus cases are high and they were turned over to ICE. ICE released them to Catholic Charities and now they are somewhere in the country. ICE first said it wasn’t true and then later I got a call that it did happen but it was a mistake. I don’t know how they’re going to get them back now that they’ve been released.”

ICE officials could not be immediately reached for comment and this story will be updated as soon as a response is given.