Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden told a House panel today that they “will consider any options to better protect Americans,” but White House press secretary Josh Earnest reiterated that a travel ban is “not something that we’re considering.”
The White House’s reluctance to entertain the idea comes as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are getting louder, asking why even interim measures such as blocking non-essential travel or blocking travel for non-citizens can’t be considered.
“Currently, when individuals do travel from West Africa to the United States, they are screened prior to departure in West Africa. They are screened again once they enter this country. And they are subjected to heightened screening if they have traveled in these three west African countries in the last three weeks or so,” Earnest told reporters today.
“That is an indication that we are taking the necessary steps to protect the American public. That is our core priority. And that is why the president has directed that these heightened screening measures be put in place at the airports where 94 percent of travelers from western Africa arrive in this country.”
Earnest argued that putting into place a travel or visa ban “would provide a direct incentive for individuals seeking to travel to the United States to go underground and to seek to evade this screening and to not be candid about their travel history in order to enter the country.”
“And that means it would be much harder for us to keep tabs on these individuals and make sure that they get the screening that’s needed to protect them and to protect, more importantly, the American public,” he continued. “So we want to keep those lines of — of transportation open so that those individuals who seek to enter this country — and again, it’s a relatively small number, about 150 a day that enter this country. We want to make sure that those individuals are subjected to the heightened screening measures that the president put in place a week or two ago.”
He also stressed the administration refrain that it’s “important for us to keep this line of transportation open because commercial transportation is critical to ensuring that supplies and equipment can get to the region.”
“I know nothing about the commercial airline industry. But ostensibly, you’re not going to fly a bunch of planes to West Africa and then fly them out of there while they’re empty,” Earnest said. “So as a practical matter, you know, putting in place that travel ban would make it harder for the international community to respond to this incident and to mobilize the personnel and equipment that’s necessary to stop this outbreak at the source.”
The press secretary also denied a report from Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), who said that Frieden told him one of the reasons behind the reluctance to enact a travel ban is the desire to not harm the economies of the “fledgling democracies” in West Africa.
“It’s not. The reason that the travel ban in the view of this administration is not appropriate right now is because it’s not in the best interest of the safety of the American public. Again, people who are traveling from those three countries to the United States right now are subjected to intensive screening both on the ground in those three countries, but also upon arrival here in the United States of America,” Earnest said.
“If we were to put in place a travel ban, it essentially would drive those individuals underground. And it would make it easier for them to evade detection. They wouldn’t be screened at the airport before they left. And it would be harder to ensure that they were being screened when they arrived in this country.”
When asked how it would drive people underground, Earnest replied, “I don’t mean literally underground.”
“I mean that they would be below the radar of the transportation system, that they would now have an incentive to be less than candid about their travel history. If knowing that they could not travel to the United States by saying that they’d been in Liberia, individuals are much less likely, if they’re planning to travel to the United States, to disclose the fact that they’ve been in Liberia,” he said.
“What people need to have the facts about is the facts that there are screening measures that are in place to ensure that individuals who are traveling from West Africa don’t currently exhibit symptoms of Ebola when they try to enter the country. That’s much harder for us to do if we put in place a travel ban, because people will attempt to circumvent that ban and it will make it harder for us to ensure they get the screening we believe is necessary.”