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The Trump administration announced it will stop all non-essential traffic across the U.S.-Mexico border, starting at midnight, following concerns about the transmission of coronavirus by migrants and cross-border traffic.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the decision during the White House press briefing Friday. The travel rules effectively add Mexico to a list of countries from which travel to the U.S. is blocked.
The travel restrictions do not apply to U.S. citizens or lawful permanent U.S. residents.
During the press briefing, Department of Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar said border detention facilities are not capable of safely housing illegal entrants into the U.S. in accordance with disease prevention guidelines. Those illegal entrants are typically kept in a “congregant setting.”
Azar said migrants with coronavirus have already spread it to other migrants, border agents and even to U.S. citizens.
“In such circumstances, the kind of social distancing measures the CDC and the President have recommended are simply not possible,” Azar said. “On top of that, any resources that we are using to reduce the risk of infection amongst CBP patients, healthcare workers and migrants in these facilities are drawing on an American health care system that is already fighting the coronavirus pandemic.”
The decision to close the border between the U.S. and Mexico comes two days after President Donald Trump indicated a mutual decision between the U.S. and Canada to discontinue all non-essential traffic across the U.S.-Canadian border, with exceptions for commercial traffic.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said Friday that the U.S., Mexico and Canada “want to make sure cargo continues, trade continues, healthcare workers continue to be able to traverse that border. But tourism, some recreational activities and other things need to stop during this crisis.”
Trump announced other actions to provide financial relief for Americans amidst the disruptions caused by the coronavirus. Trump announced a suspension of federal standardized testing requirements for the current year for students in elementary through high school education.
Trump also announced his administration had waived interest on all federally held student loans and said U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos directed federal lenders to allow borrowers to suspend student loan payments without penalty for up to 60 days. He said the pause on student loan payments may be extended as needed.
The U.S. Treasury Department has also agreed to delay tax filing deadlines and push them back from April 15 to July 15.
“Families and businesses will have this extra time to file with no interest or penalties. We’re getting rid of interest and penalties,” Trump said, “however if you have refunds or credits you would like to claim you can still file.”