April 24, 2020

Union Reps Warn DHS Failure On Mexico Border Ports Of Entry Is A Nat Sec Nightmare That Could Lead To Rise In COVID19 Infections

Nogalas, Arizona Port of Entry checkpoint Sunday, April 19, 2020. Despite COVID19 lockdown, hundreds of Americans and green card holders freely cross back and forth into Mexico for ‘non-essential’ goods and services. DHS has not given U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers any authority to stop the traffic leaving the U.S. to Mexico. (Photo provided by Patricia Cramer)

As most Americans are grappling with life under COVID19 lockdown, many having to cancel flights overseas and rarely leaving home, some U.S. residents along the southern border are not heeding warnings and being allowed by the Department of Homeland Security to travel freely into areas of Mexico where the novel coronavirus is on the rise. Those same residents then return to the United States without receiving any medical checks or being required to quarantine, according to numerous CBP Union and Customs agents that spoke with this reporter.

The majority of non-essential travel, they say is people visiting family, going to nail salons, taking their pets to veterinarians, buying groceries and accessing other services not readily available to them in the United States but the risk is too great say officers who contend that failure to not stop the ‘non-essential traffic’ from the United States going south rests solely with their senior officials at the Department of Homeland Security.

Patricia Cramer, who is President of the Arizona chapter of the National Treasury Employee Union [NTEU] representing U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers and Agriculture Specialists at the Arizona Port of Entries, told The Sara Carter Show this week that the Department of Homeland Security isn’t doing its job and warned that failure to stop the flow of non-essential travel into Mexico is threatening not only CBP officers at the ports of entry but the nation’s security as well. Currently, 288 CBP officers across the nation are infected with the novel coronavirus that has led to the deaths of nearly 50,000 Americans.

Cramer said, “there’s no way President Trump knows this is going on because I’d believe he’d stop it immediately.”

“If anyone was to come down to the U.S. Mexico border they would never think there was a pandemic going on,” said Cramer, who was born in Mexico, became a citizen of the United States and has worked for decades with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “You would think life is just normal. And unfortunately, it’s a lot of U.S. citizens and green card holders that are going back and forth into Mexico you know to get tacos, to get haircuts, to go to nail salons, to go to vet appointments – I mean nonessential stuff.”

She added, “no matter what your political views are you know every customs officer will tell you that the system is very broken and it has been broken because of politics and because of the people that have been in place that are heads of DHS you know and no matter your political view everybody should be concerned about the security of your country because there are some scary people and some scary things trying to come through. And if it wasn’t for the frontline of America, our country would be in grave danger.”

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told Fox News host Martha McCallum’s ‘The Story’ Thursday night that Trump’s new Executive Order to halt some legal immigration to the United States amid the pandemic “affects new immigrants that are coming into the U.S. these are individuals that are competing with Americans for jobs, basically any job in any industry and that’s really what the president is targeting.”

He didn’t address the concerns raised by Cramer and other Union representatives at the southern border but said DHS policy is to first “protect the American people, and in this case protect American jobs.”

Cramer said there is no real protection for the American people or the officers if residents continue to travel back and further. More importantly, she said, there is no system in place to test people re-entering the U.S. at the Ports of Entry who may have been infected with COVID19. She did, however, say that in Mexico at “only some of the checkpoints” the Mexican government is taking temperatures of those crossing into their country.

She described the Port of Entry in San Luis, Arizona as having six-hour wait times to cross at certain times during the day and that “local management has tried everything they can to help the custom’s officers working along the border.

“The problem here is that the acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf and the acting commissioner Mark Morgan can do a lot more to protect the country and protect the frontline,” she said. “And it’s not happening because we keep allowing these reckless people to go back and forth back and forth and you know constitutionally we can’t deny their entry. That is very true. But under a national emergency, we can stop their exit from the country. And this is up to the DHS secretary. And it’s not happening, Sara. And we have to preserve the front line because could you imagine the front line is already cracking.”

John Monahan, the president of the local NTEU, in El Paso, Texas said the situation in his area of operations is similar to Cramers. El Paso has three main international bridges, used for commerce, as well as pedestrian and visitor traffic. Texas currently has 25 CBP officers infected with COVID19, and nine of them are in El Paso.

“Although the travel is greatly reduced in our area we still have a great number of people traveling back and forth to visit family, buy groceries,” Monahan said. “I’m not saying to   close traffic to necessary commerce but we should close traffic to non-essential traffic  for at least 30 days to stop the spread.”

He said keeping the traffic flowing to cities like Juarez, which borders El Paso, is possibly leading to the unnecessary spread of COVID19 for people on both sides of the border and as important “to our officers that are on the frontlines.”

“How are we going to get control of COVID19,” Monahan questioned.

“I would be more surprised if there wasn’t more infections with our officers,” said Monahan, who described El Paso’s main three international bridges and the 800 to 900 employees working along the border that he represents.

“If the administration really wants to have an effect on the COVID19 crisis along the border, the DHS needs to close down the bridges, except for the cargo that’s essential,” said Monahan. “I’m not talking about a complete shutdown, but everyday travelers that aren’t abiding by the regulations and at least give us a chance to flatten the curve.”

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