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Tragically, US Travel Restrictions Remain in Place

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The Information Age, for all its wonders in the vast and instant access to any topic imaginable, is really quite a paradox. Accessible information should ideally lead to greater knowledge and understanding. Yet, information is not always true or accurate, causing confusion and misleading recipients. Journalists and news organizations, therefore, bear a duty to their readers to investigate and verify information before publishing.

Vetting information should be relatively easy in some cases. So why do today’s media authors insist on being parrot-like mouthpieces instead of ethical, investigative journalists? Why do they not dig anymore? Why not question and confirm or correct information before publishing articles that get viewed by the masses, creating perceptions with a reckless disregard for the truth?

Forbes, TravelPulse, Sky Sports, and Express Daily among other outlets reported on Thursday that the United States has voted to end its restrictions against unvaccinated foreign travelers. Some of these articles quote Geoff Freeman, CEO of the US Travel Association, following a statement published on the organization’s website that appears to have since been deleted. In the quotes, Freeman praised the Senate’s passage of H.J.Res. 7, a bill terminating the national covid emergency declaration in the US, suggesting that this bill removed the travel vaccine mandate for visitors to the US.

Had any of these authors or their editors read the text of the bill, they would have at least questioned the accuracy of US Travel’s official commentary that the bill has any effect on the international travel ban. Instead, each news outlet in rapid succession published similar, misleading articles. Quintessential irresponsible journalism–erroneous reporting compounded with a “whisper down the lane” effect that because information has been reported, and then reported by multiple sources, it is now true albeit a gross misrepresentation of the facts.

The truth is the US has not lifted the travel ban. It is still in place without expiration, and will only be terminated by President Biden upon recommendation by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Hope in that respect is grim for both citizens and noncitizens harmed and kept apart from loved ones by the restriction. 

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra testified before the House of Representatives on March 28th that “the actions that our Administration is taking with regard to American citizens is to protect them as best possible against covid. The actions we take with regard to those trying to enter the country are somewhat similar, but there are some differences because these are folks who are asking for permission to come into the U.S.” Representative Claudia Tenney (R-NY) asked if the decision to not lift vaccine mandates was political, to which Secretary Becerra responded that the mandates, including the travel restrictions, are “based on science and the evidence.”

While testifying, Becerra–a lawyer–is oblivious to statements made by his own CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky. Walensky told the public in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that “vaccines are no longer effective at preventing disease.”

The CDC also updated its guidance to “no longer differentiate based on a person’s vaccination status because breakthrough infections occur…” as of August 19, 2022. However, the CDC has not yet removed the Amended Order banning unvaccinated travelers. In their official comment regarding the travel restrictions, the CDC responded that the order is simply an implementation of President Biden’s Proclamation 10294, and the agency defers status updates to the White House.

Given Becerra’s recent testimony, it is apparent that he is also unaware that the global scientists in the World Health Organization have recommended since July of 2021 that governments not require international travelers to be vaccinated against covid for entry. 

He further testified that he does not have the authority to issue “waivers” of the vaccine requirement for foreign travelers, which begs the question: Does Becerra know that he is responsible for advising President Biden to terminate the travel restriction? If he followed the science and the evidence, as he testified his Department does, then he should have advised President Biden to end Proclamation 10294 in the summer of 2022.

Alas, the only measures before Congress that would legislate an end to the covid travel restrictions have been stalled in the Senate. As of Thursday, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) has twice asked his colleagues to unanimously consent to pass HR 185, a bill offered by Representative Thomas Massie (R-KY) that passed the House in February to terminate the CDC Amended Order requiring the covid vaccine for air passengers. Both calls for consent were quashed by objections.

Senator Peter Welch (D-VT) objected, believing Congress should not set precedent by ending any programs of President Biden’s public health emergency before the Administration was ready. At Lee’s second request for unanimous consent, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) stood and objected for then-absent Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT). 

Although not all of the reasons for Sanders’ objections were read into the record, the “most compelling” objection, per Booker, was that covid originated outside of the US and “many health professionals” believe keeping unvaccinated noncitizens out will curb the spread of the disease and future variants.

Now that the objections have stalled any legislative action on HR 185, the Senate may need to hold a roll call vote to pass the bill and send it to President Biden, who has not promised to veto. Such a vote is not expected prior to April 17th, as Senators will be out of DC for state work.

Certain media outlets have also mistakenly published that the covid travel restrictions are due to end on April 10th. No doubt, their assumption comes from the TSA Security Directive, which orders airlines to comply with Proclamation 10294. Unfortunately, the agency renews this directive so long as Proclamation 10294 remains in place. 

It cannot be said enough that Proclamation 10294 and the CDC Amended Order implementing President Biden’s policy have no expiration date. Indeed, the White House only promised the restriction would “be reviewed” prior to the anticipated May 11th end to the covid public health emergency–there is no offered end date. 

Further, the Proclamation is based on the National Immigration Act. Although the national covid emergency spawned the development of this now-defunct policy, the legal authority rationalizing it will remain well beyond the termination of any emergency, allowing the policy itself to be enforced until removed.

An official from the White House advised that ending the national covid emergency does not end the travel restrictions, and those restrictions remain in effect at this time under Proclamation 10294 and the CDC’s Amended Order. The official did not provide an anticipated end date when asked.

To make this abundantly clear for the public: Presidential Proclamation 10294 requiring non-citizen non-immigrants be vaccinated to enter the US will only end if President Biden rescinds it, Congress repeals it, or the Judiciary strikes it down. To date, no lawsuits have been filed challenging the ban on foreign visitors. 



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Author

  • Gwendolyn Kull

    Gwendolyn Kull is an attorney who coauthored the prosecutorial ethics guide for the Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Association and developed a youth anti-gun violence engagement program within her jurisdiction of practice. She is a mother of two boys, dedicated public servant, and is now zealously advocating to defend the United States Constitution against bureaucratic tyranny. A graduate of University of Pennsylvania Law School, Gwendolyn has focused her career primarily on criminal law, representing the interests of victims and communities while ensuring proceedings are fair and defendants’ rights are protected.

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