WASHINGTON, March 17 (Reuters) - The United States plans to turn back all asylum seekers and most other foreigners attempting to enter the United States from Mexico illegally, arguing the step is necessary to combat the fast-spreading coronavirus, according to U.S. media reports on Tuesday.
The new rule, which is expected to be announced in the next 48 hours, would allow border patrol agents to immediately return to Mexico anyone who tries to cross the southwestern border between legal ports of entry without detainment or due process, the New York Times reported.
Ports of entry will remain open to commercial traffic and to U.S. citizens as well as people with green cards and other foreigners with proper documentation, the Times reported, citing administration officials.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment.
President Donald Trump has made a reduction of immigration a central focus of his administration. His administration's policies intended to diminish asylum applications have done more to slow immigration than his efforts to build a wall along the southern border.
Immigration advocates and public health experts have voiced concern about the potential for virus spread among detained people, even before the coronavirus outbreak.
More than 2,000 immigration detainees were quarantined after mumps and other diseases infected nearly 900 people between September 2018 and August 2019; most were infected within government facilities.
Mexico has reported 82 coronavirus cases so far, compared with nearly 6,000 in the United States. (Reporting by Makini Brice and Alexandra Alper; Editing by Leslie Adler)