U.S. Border Patrol agents in San Diego, working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, began repatriating some Mexican nationals to Mexico City on Tuesday, citing an effort to decrease the spread of the novel coronavirus along the border, federal officials said.
Since the pandemic hit -- and prior to Tuesday's flight to Mexico City -- the Border Patrol brought all Mexican nationals taken into custody in the San Diego sector to local Ports of Entry, said Border Patrol spokesman Jarrett Decker.
Between March 20 and May 14, though, there has been an increase in Mexican nationals making repeated attempts to enter the U.S. illegally and bypass public health measures, according to a news release issued Thursday by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, which also stated that some of the those who were detained re-entered the U.S. illegally more than 10 times within the past two months. The increase was significant "compared to the several months prior to March," said Border Patrol spokesman Justin Castrejon, who added that "78 percent of the recidivists were Mexican nationals."
"The repeated illegal entries increase the risk of exposure to the immigration officials they come in contact with as well as an increased risk of successful illegal entries resulting in potential exposure and spread of COVID-19 to the American public at large," the release stated.
Under Title 42 of the United States, which deals with public health, the Border Patrol has the authority to "take immediate action to deport individuals to stop the spread of COVID-19," Decker said.
"The overarching goal of these repatriation flights is to reduce the spread of COVID-19 into the U.S. and reduce the strain on Mexico's resources along the border," officials said in the news release. However, Decker said he was not aware of any of the Mexican nationals caught trying to get into the U.S. between March 20 and May 14 testing positive for the coronavirus.
The Mexicans who are being repatriated are being screened for symptoms of the coronavirus and given surgical masks for their flight to Mexico City, a location selected by Mexican officials. The repatriations are a joint effort between the U.S. and Mexican governments, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.
"I know they are going to be doing as many flights as possible, but that's all going to depend on, probably, different things that ICE has in place," Decker said.
The Border Patrol spokesmen did not know how many of the deportees were on the flight on Tuesday. A request for that information has been submitted to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.