Vice President Mike Pence in March directed the nation's top disease control agency to use its emergency powers to effectively seal the US borders, overruling the agency's scientists who said there was no evidence the action would slow the coronavirus, according to two former health officials, the AP reports. The action has so far caused nearly 150,000 children and adults to be expelled from the country. The top Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doctor who oversees these types of orders had refused to comply with a Trump administration directive saying there was no valid public health reason to issue it, according to three people with direct knowledge of the doctor's refusal. So Pence intervened in early March.
The vice president, who had taken over the Trump administration's response to the growing pandemic, called Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC's director, and told him to use the agency's special legal authority in a pandemic anyway. Redfield immediately ordered his senior staff to get it done, according to a former CDC official. The CDC's order covered the US and Canada borders, but has mostly affected the thousands of asylum seekers and immigrants arriving at the US-Mexico border. Public health experts had urged the administration to focus on coronavirus safety measures, but Stephen Miller, a top aide to President Trump who has been a vocal opponent of immigration, pushed for the expulsion order. (Pence sent a personal message to Trump on Friday.)