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President Joe Biden did ban travel from eight African countries, trying to slow down the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19
Widespread testing for migrants crossing the United States’ southern border is not being required, however.
But those showing symptoms of COVID-19 are required to take a test for the virus.
But in August, officials said they were relying on a patchwork of local governments and other contractors to do the testing, so the responsibility wasn’t completely on the federal government or Biden administration
The discovery of a new variant of COVID-19 -- dubbed Omicron -- has once again set the world on edge, with leaders scrambling to keep people safe amid questions about just how dangerous the new strain is.
In the U.S., President Joe Biden responded by limiting travel from some affected countries, but that only prompted criticism about what the U.S. is not doing at the southern border.
On Nov. 30, 2021, U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wisconsin, tweeted this about Biden: "POTUS shut down travel from 8 countries in response to the Omicron variant, but he refuses to require a #COVID19 test for illegal immigrants crossing our Southern border."
For the purpose of this fact-check, we’re going to look into both parts of Grothman’s claim -- Did Biden put restrictions on eight countries? And are the migrants coming into the U.S. via the southern border not being tested for COVID?
Is Grothman correct? Generally speaking, yes. But there is considerable information missing.
Let’s start with the first part of the claim. Did Biden block travel from eight countries upon the discovery of the Omicron variant?
According to a Nov. 26, 2021 proclamation, travelers from eight African countries were indeed blocked from entry into the U.S. to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Those countries were Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The travel restrictions do not apply to U.S. citizens, however.
In his proclamation, Biden says the travel advisory is necessary to protect the U.S., because African countries had not yet been able to conduct genomic sequencing on the variant to detect how much more transmissible it may be.
So that part of the claim is on point.
But what about the other part?
Report found that most migrants not tested for COVID after crossing borders
Grothman said in a Dec. 3, 2021 interview that he learned the U.S Border Patrol wasn’t testing all immigrants entering the U.S. during a visit this year to a facility in Yuma, Arizona. He said he was told by agents that if a person declined a test, the agents weren’t able to press the issue any further.
When asked about the statement, Grothman’s office also sent over a list of other sources that noted that testing for COVID hasn’t been required at the border.
One was a Sept. 10, 2021 memo from the Office of the Inspector General in the Department of Health Services, which said an inspection found that U.S. Customs and Border Control was not testing migrants, and was not required to do so, relying instead on local public health systems to test symptomatic individuals. The memo also noted that the DHS does not have the authority to enforce testing procedures at the border, either.
Grothman’s office also shared a link to an April 28, 2021 New York Times report that included similar information: U.S. authorities were failing to test migrants crossing into the U.S. via the southern border, creating situations ripe for new transmission of the virus.
The Times report said officials cited insufficient time and space to conduct more widespread testing – but it is from nearly nine months ago.
Meanwhile, in a more recent fact-check, from August 2021, PolitiFact National noted:
"COVID-19 testing protocols have existed at the border under both the present and former administrations. Testing is done via a patchwork of federal agencies, local governments, organizations and contractors at various stages of the immigration process.
"In April, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security told PolitiFact that it works with state authorities, local authorities and non-governmental organizations to ensure that ‘100% of noncitizens’ are tested for COVID-19 ‘at some point during their immigration journey.’ The agency also has told PolitiFact that a negative coronavirus test is required by the federal government before entry to the U.S."
So, the picture on testing at the border is a difficult one to get a firm handle on. Even the most recent item cited by Grothman – the OIG memo on DHS and other agencies – noted that in many cases local governments are being relied upon for testing.
Grothman claimed that Biden halted travel from eight countries due to the discovery of the Omicron variant, but was still allowing migrants crossing the Southern border to go untested.
Biden did halt travel from eight African countries following the discovery of the variant there, in hopes of slowing the spread into the U.S.
Meanwhile, at the southern border reports have shown there is no widespread testing by federal agencies there. Instead, to the degree testing is occurring, local governments are being relied upon to do it. So Grothman is a bit off the mark there.
Our definition of Half True is a "statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context."
That fits here.
Glenn Grothman, Twitter, Nov. 30, 2021
Phone conversation with Glenn Grothman, Dec. 3, 2021
Office of the Inspector General, "DHS needs to enhance its COVID-19 response at the Southwest Border," Sept. 10, 2021
New York Times, "Covid on the Border: Migrants Aren’t Tested on Arrival in U.S." April 28, 2021
PolitiFact, "The Biden administration is ‘not even testing these people’ being released by Border Patrol into the U.S." Aug. 13, 2021
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