Menendez, Booker Press Pence for Additional Resources, Clear Guidelines after Weekend of Chaos at Nation’s Airports

Menendez, Booker Press Pence for Additional Resources, Clear Guidelines after Weekend of Chaos at Nation’s Airports

JFK, Dallas-Fort Worth, O’Hare airports experienced massive crowds after Trump announced travel restrictions from Europe

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-N.J.) today pressed Vice President Mike Pence, Chair of the Coronavirus Task Force, to provide clear guidelines and all necessary resources to our nation’s airports so they can quickly and efficiently screen and process travelers returning to the U.S. from Europe. Several airports across the nation, including John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, and O’Hare International Airport in Chicago experienced massive overcrowding this past weekend as travelers were rushing to return home after President Trump announced travel restrictions from Europe last week.

“While we must take all necessary steps to protect our communities from COVID-19, there have been widespread reports of massive crowds and significant delays at the designated airports around the country where Americans returning from Europe are being directed,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Vice President Pence. “ At a time when medical and public health experts, including those within the Trump Administration, are recommending that people avoid large crowds and practice social distancing, it is irresponsible to have large numbers of people, who the Administration has deemed are traveling from high-risk areas, congregating in enclosed spaces within our airports for extended periods of time.”

New Jersey’s lawmakers urged Vice President Pence to provide additional resources to guarantee all American’s are screened when returning to the U.S. and to better-coordinate with state and local officials and the private sector to ensure all resources are properly deployed. 

“It is obvious from what we have witnessed at our airports that there was little preparation made for the inevitable influx of Americans returning from Europe upon the public announcement of travel restrictions, and that the administration rushed into this decision without adequate planning or forethought, risking further compounding a public health crisis,” the Senators wrote in the letter.

Last week, Sens. Menendez and Booker requested information from the Trump Administration on screenings performed on individuals traveling to the United States from countries reporting high volume of COVID-19 cases, how the results of these screenings are being communicated, and if airport workers are receiving the proper training and equipment to minimize risk associated with the virus. In January, the pair of lawmakers were successful in securing additional screening resources for Newark Liberty International Airport, the nation’s fifth busiest airport

A copy of the letter to Vice President Pence can be found here and below.

 

Dear Vice President Pence: 

We write to you today with regard to recent reports of large crowds and long wait times at airports following the announcement and implementation of travel restrictions on European nations.

As you know, on March 11, 2020, President Trump announced that travelers from Europe would not be permitted to enter the United States, effective 11:59 p.m. March 13, 2020.  This prohibition was clarified to apply to countries within the Schengen Area, excluding U.S. citizens, their immediate family members, and Legal Permanent Residents.  The restrictions were later expanded to include the United Kingdom and Ireland beginning on March 15, 2020. 

While we must take all necessary steps to protect our communities from COVID-19, there have been widespread reports of massive crowds and significant delays at the designated airports around the country where Americans returning from Europe are being directed.  At a time when medical and public health experts, including those within the Trump Administration, are recommending that people avoid large crowds and practice social distancing, it is irresponsible to have large numbers of people, who the Administration has deemed are traveling from high-risk areas, congregating in enclosed spaces within our airports for extended periods of time. 

It is obvious from what we have witnessed at our airports that there was little preparation made for the inevitable influx of Americans returning from Europe upon the public announcement of travel restrictions, and that the administration rushed into this decision without adequate planning or forethought, risking further compounding a public health crisis”

As such, I urge the Administration to provide all necessary resources to our airports to be able to quickly and efficiently screen and process travelers returning from impacted countries, and request answers to the below questions no later than March xx, 2020:

  1. Did the Administration consider the likelihood of large volumes of Americans returning from Europe after the announcement of the travel restrictions?
  2. If so, how was this information incorporated into the rollout of the restrictions in order to ensure an orderly and efficient re-entry process upon arrival at designated airports? 
  3. Was any consultation made with airlines and other stakeholders prior to the announcement of the restrictions, and in the lead-up to their implementation, in order to understand the volume of passengers who would likely be returning?
  4. What provisions has the Administration made to help airports process the large volumes of Americans returning from Europe due to the travel restrictions announced March 11th and March 14th?
  5. What guidance was issued to airports, airlines, and the relevant federal employees at these airports prior to the implementation of these travel restrictions?
  6. Were any additional resources redirected to designated airports following the announcement of the travel restrictions? Please provide detailed information regarding the specific resources that have been, or are planned to be, deployed to each of the 13 designated airports. 
    1. If so, why was the ability of these airports to quickly and efficiently repatriate returning travelers so far below demand?
    2. If not, will you commit to providing additional resources as necessary to airports to which Americans returning from Europe are being directed?
  7. Prior to the travel restrictions going into effect, some travelers from high-risk areas reported facing no enhanced screening at all.  Additionally, following the announcement of the restrictions, some travelers reported that they did not undergo additional screening upon arrival in the U.S. despite being in close proximity to those traveling from high-risk areas.
  8. Did Customs and Border Protection (CBP) add additional staff to process the “enhanced screening” at airports?
  9. What are the enhanced screening measures that are currently being implemented at the 13 designated airports, and which travelers are subject to them? 
  10. Will you commit to closely coordinating any future response with state and local officials and the private sector to ensure resources are properly deployed?

We thank you in advance for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

 

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