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WH defends not requiring negative COVID test from illegal migrants

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Pressed on the Biden administration's decision not to require coronavirus vaccines or negative COVID-19 tests for people illegally crossing the southern border, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki insisted Monday the refugees are "not intending to stay here for a lengthy period of time." 

In recent days, thousands of migrants from Haiti and other countries have flooded the southern border seeking permanent asylum in the US. Many reached a processing bottleneck in Del Rio, Texas, last week, leaving over 12,000 migrants to camp under a bridge, sparking coronavirus and security threat concerns among local and state leaders. 

During Monday's daily press briefing, Psaki was pressed on why there are so many steps pertaining to COVID-19 when flying into the country, such as providing vaccination proof or a negative COVID-19 test, but seemingly none for those who walk across the border. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended the Biden administration's decision to not require migrants to be vaccinated or test negative for COVID-19.Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

"As individuals come across the border, and they are both assessed for whether they have any symptoms, if they have symptoms they are," Psaki said.

"The intention is for them to be quarantined. That is our process, they're not intending to stay here for a lengthy period of time, I don't think it's the same thing. It's not the same thing."

"We are expelling individuals based on Title 42 specifically because of COVID because we want to prevent a scenario where large numbers of people are gathering posing a threat to the community and also to the migrants themselves," she added. 

The lack of vaccine requirements for illegal migrants is not new, as on Sept. 10, Psaki confirmed the government would not require them, despite President Biden's order requiring roughly two-thirds of US workers to be vaccinated. At the time, she did not elaborate on why migrants wouldn't be subject to the same rules as US workers. 

An encampment of migrants near the International Bridge on the border near Del Rio, Texas, on September 17, 2021.Photo by Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images

Her claim that the migrants at the border are not seeking to stay in the US for long comes as over 12,000 camped in Del Rio over the weekend waiting for asylum claims to be processed and hundreds more are on the journey.

Haitians in particular have been migrating to the US in large numbers from South America for several years, many of them having left the Caribbean nation after a devastating earthquake in 2010.

The US has seen historic numbers of people illegally crossing the southern border this year, with border officials having stopped over 1,323,500 illegal immigrants so far. 

Migrants crossing the Rio Grande River near Del Rio on September 17, 2021.Photo by Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images

Last week, officials confirmed they had encountered 208,887 migrants at the southwestern frontier in August, marking the first time that more than 200,000 illegal immigrant encounters have been recorded in consecutive months since February and March 2000 (211,328 and 220,063, respectively).

The Biden administration has attempted to mitigate the influx through deportation flights authorized under the CDC's Title 42 order, successfully deporting nearly 1 million people. However last week, US District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the US can no longer cite the order to deport migrant families. The order does not apply to single migrants and the Department of Homeland Security claims the majority of migrants are still being expelled under the Title 42 order. 

United States Border Patrol agents preventing Haitian migrants from entering an encampment near the Rio Grande on September 19, 2021.Photo by PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images

On Sunday, Border Patrol Chief Raul L. Ortiz revealed that 3,300 migrants were moved from the camp to deportation flights or detention centers. Border Patrol officials aim to process the approximately 12,600 migrants left under the bridge within the week. 

The first of the three deportation flights, carrying 145 people each, took off Sunday from San Antonio to Port-au-Prince. A US official told the Associated Press there could be as many as eight flights a day.

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