WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump signed an order late Friday threatening to impose sanctions on countries that attempt to bar the repatriation of U.S. deportees because those people have spent time in the world’s worst hot spot for coronavirus.
Underscoring the extent of the coronavirus in the U.S., some countries and immigrant advocates have called for a pause in U.S. deportations for fear that the international movement of immigrants could spread the virus to countries less equipped to handle it.
Guatemala briefly stopped accepting its own deported nationals from the U.S. last month because of the virus. While the country resumed accepting its own citizens, it is continuing to block Honduran and Salvadoran migrants deported from the U.S.
Trump’s order instructs consular officials to stop processing U.S. visas for countries in which the Department of Homeland Security finds is no longer accepting deportees.
It was not immediately clear if the order was aimed at any country in particular. Neither the White House nor the State Department responded to a request for comment.
Trump’s memorandum cites the coronavirus and the national emergency he declared last month as justifications for the move. Countries that deny or “unreasonably delay” the acceptance of their citizens from the United States during the coronavirus pandemic, the order reads, “create unacceptable public health risks for Americans.”
There were nearly 500,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. as of Friday. Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – all of which have significantly smaller populations than the United States – all had fewer than 500 reported cases.