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Psaki on Why Migrants Can Enter U.S. But Unvaccinated Foreign Nationals Can’t: ‘Not the Same Thing’

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki takes questions during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., September 20, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday dismissed a question about why migrants are not required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before entering the U.S. but foreign nationals who arrive by plane are, arguing that “it is not the same thing.”

“As individuals come across the border, they are both assessed for whether they have any symptoms, if they have symptoms, the intention is for them to have to be quarantined,” Psaki said of migrants entering the U.S. “That is our process.” 

“They are not intending to stay here for a lengthy period of time,” Psaki said of foreign nationals when pressed for further explanation. “I don’t think it’s the same thing. It is not the same thing.” 

The press briefing exchange came after the White House announced on Monday that the U.S. will require all foreign nationals to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 to enter the country. 

“With science and public health as our guide, we have developed a new international air travel system that both enhances the safety of Americans here at home and enhances the safety of international air travel,” White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters. “Foreign nationals flying to the U.S. will be required to be fully vaccinated.”

Foreign travelers will be required to provide proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test within three days prior to departure to the U.S.

Meanwhile, thousands of migrants with unknown vaccination statuses are entering the country through the southern border each day. In Del Rio, Texas, Border Patrol agents have been overwhelmed by thousands of mostly Haitian migrants who have illegally crossed the border and are camping out under the international bridge in squalid conditions. The number of migrants at the camp has exploded since Wednesday, when there were 4,000 migrants there. Since then, the number has topped 14,000 at times.

Representative August Pfluger (R., Texas) who visited the area described it as “worse than you could imagine” and said that Border Patrol agents are worried “the worst is yet to come.”

“We are expelling individuals based on Title 42, specifically because of COVID,” Psaki said Monday, referring to the public health order. “Because we want to prevent a scenario where large numbers of people are gathering, posing a threat to the community, and also to the migrants themselves.”  

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