August 12, 2020

Due to the Donald Trump administration's complete incompetence at containing a pandemic that much of the rest of the world has already gotten under some semblance of control, United States citizens are now unwelcome in much of the world. We are simply considered too potentially disease-riddled to be allowed to visit other nations freely.

But the list of nations banning United States residents from crossing their borders may be soon be getting an extremely notable new addition: the United States itself. No, really. Trump's White House team is now considering whether returning United States citizens should be barred from reentering the country if there is "reason to believe" they might carry the virus.

To answer the most obvious question, in theory the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention may have the authority to keep American citizens from returning to the country if they "may have been exposed to or [are] infected with" a transmittable disease. Or at least, that is what the Trump team is relying on—it's not clear if a blanket ban would really pass constitutional muster. In practice, as with so much else that Republicans have slavishly insisted Trump be allowed to do during this administration, it does not matter. Trump can simply order border officials to refuse entry, invite the lawsuits, and presume that every one of those lawsuits will prove moot long before they make it through even the first layers of our judicial system.

When you've been pre-immunized by a loyal Senate, as we've learned, laws no longer much matter. You can do whatever you want.

The draft proposal the White House is said to be contemplating seems a bit nebulous on the details. Trump's team wants to bar those "suspected" of having COVID-19. What counts as "suspected?" A fever? Having spent time in a known coronavirus hotspot? Will they be requiring travelers submit to "rapid" but testing, confining them to waiting rooms until the results are available? Where do they intend to get the tests from, during a nationwide shortage?

As actual pandemic safety precaution, the measure is (yes, we've been here before as well) largely symbolic—i.e. pointless. While it's nice to think the administration might actually develop a plan to test at least some group of Americans, even if it's only "Americans rich enough and dumb enough to travel internationally during a pandemic," it would not make even the most minimal of dents in actual pandemic spread. The virus is already here, and widespread.

The more typical pandemic approach would be to test travelers and quarantine those returnees who tested positive. This has been the presumptive approach since the beginning, or would have been if Donald Trump was not a deeply weird and sociopathic crackpot. Trump famously groused against allowing an infected cruise ship to dock at a U.S. port during the early days of the pandemic, complaining that it would inflate the U.S. case count and make him look bad.

That particular ship has (cough) sailed, now that U.S. cases have topped 5 million and deaths have topped 160,000. There's no numeric advantage in denying U.S. citizens reentry to the United States, rather than allowing them to return but quarantining them. It appears to be another case of the Trump team searching frantically for things that sound "tough" while having limited to no actual preventative value.

More to the point, this may be another case of a Trump rule that is aggressively enforced at only one border, while being mostly for show at the others. The odds that border officials will just happen to test those Americans entering from the U.S.-Mexico border at far, far greater rates than those flying in from elsewhere are ... high. To put it mildly. It might even be reasonable to assume that the new rule is primarily a way to further harass and torment non-white dual citizens attempting to reenter this country from another, just for the Trumpian reason of wanting to.

Republished with permission from Daily Kos.

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