Vice President Pence in March reportedly ordered the director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to use its emergency powers to close the U.S. borders, despite top scientists saying there was no evidence that doing so would reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The vice president called the CDC’s director, Robert Redfield, and told him to use the medical agency’s special powers allotted during a pandemic, The Associated Press reported.
Title 42 of the Public Health Service Act gives federal health officials the authority to take certain wide-reaching measures during a pandemic in order to prevent the spread of a disease, including limiting immigration from countries with high numbers of confirmed cases.
Three people with direct knowledge of the situation told the AP that Pence’s request came after the CDC had initially refused to comply with a Trump administration directive to shut down borders, saying at the time that there was no valid health reason to issue such a directive.
A former anonymous CDC official who was not authorized to divulge internal discussions said that Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf were also on the phone call. The source told the AP that Redfield immediately ordered his senior staff to carry out the order.
Since the action was implemented in March, it has caused nearly 150,000 children and adults to be expelled from the U.S., according to the AP’s analysis.
The CDC’s order covered the U.S. borders with both Mexico and Canada, but has had a larger impact on the thousands of asylum-seekers and immigrants at the southern border.
Although public health experts recommended that the Trump administration focus on a national mask mandate, enforcing social distancing and increasing the number of contact tracers, top White House officials, including Trump aide Stephen Miller, pushed for the immigration order from the CDC.
“That was a Stephen Miller special. He was all over that,” said Olivia Troye, a former top aide to Pence.
Troye recently resigned, saying the administration was prioritizing politics over the health and safety of Americans.
“There was a lot of pressure on DHS and CDC to push this forward,” she told the AP.
Anthony So, an international expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote in a letter to Redfield in April that “the decision to halt asylum processes ‘to protect the public health’ is not based on evidence or science,” and said “this order directly endangers tens of thousands of lives and threatens to amplify dangerous anti-immigrant sentiment and xenophobia.”
Pence spokeswoman Katie Miller told The Hill on Saturday that the AP’s reporting was “false.”
“Vice President Pence never directed the CDC on this issue,” Miller said when contacted with a request for comment.
The AP’s reporting comes as approximately 2,000 migrants from Honduras are traveling toward the U.S. southern border.
Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei reportedly said in a broadcast address on Friday that those who had crossed the border into Guatemala Thursday would be detained and returned to their home country, claiming that the migrants posed a health threat due to the coronavirus pandemic.