U.S. arrests along border with Mexico plummet in April amid coronavirus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. arrests along the border with Mexico fell dramatically in April as migrants were swiftly deported under new rules aimed at limiting the spread of the novel coronavirus, the top U.S. Customs and Border Protection official told reporters on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. flag is seen at the Cordova Americas border bridge, where the flow of people has decreased as new travel restrictions aimed at containing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) have stopped millions of Mexicans living close to the U.S. border from crossing back and forth, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

The Border Patrol arrested about 16,000 migrants in April, a 47 percent decline from a month earlier, according to CBP. Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan credited the drop-off to the Trump administration’s decision to “expel” migrants under a health-focused statute put into effect in March, as well as restrictions on travel put in place by other countries along the traditional migrant routes to the U.S. border.

The statute allows agents to deport migrants apprehended at the border - including asylum seekers and unaccompanied children - without standard legal processes.

“That really has led to the reduction in overall numbers,” Morgan said.

He said the majority of crossers caught in April were single adults from Mexico, who can be quickly returned to that country.

The statistics underscore how U.S. President Donald Trump has pushed ahead with his broad immigration crackdown during the coronavirus crisis. Trump faces voters in November and has made immigration a central theme of his presidency and the 2020 campaign.

In addition to swiftly turning out illegal crossers, the administration has pushed ahead with its efforts to build a vast barrier on the southern border in the midst of national shutdowns due to the public health crisis.

In March, the United States temporarily closed its borders with Mexico and Canada to non-essential travel and paused routine visa services in most countries around the world.

Trump has also targeted legal immigration during the pandemic. In April, he issued an executive order that temporarily blocks some immigrants seeking green cards from coming to the United States, saying the immigrants pose a threat to U.S. workers.

That order stopped short of broader halts to U.S. immigration. Four Republican senators sent a letter to Trump on Thursday calling for him to suspend all foreign guest worker visas for 60 days and to block some visa types for a year or until the U.S. economy “has returned to normal levels.”

Reporting by Ted Hesson; Editing by Mica Rosenberg and Dan Grebler