Defending the southern border is a key part of protecting the United States from the coronavirus, a top U.S. immigration official said Friday.
A border crisis could exacerbate a pandemic, said Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary of homeland security and a member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force. But the disease doesn’t currently pose a major threat in the U.S., he added.
“When you are talking about a pandemic, and you have a border crisis … we do not have facilities that can quarantine tens, scores, hundreds, or thousands of people,” Cuccinelli said at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
“I’m not prepared to put my folks at risk, any more than any of you are,” he said of Department of Homeland Security personnel. “So, to prioritize their safety and health when we don’t have tools to necessarily deal with this, it limits our options rather dramatically.”
The coronavirus outbreak has infected more than 84,000 and killed nearly 3,000 globally, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University, USA Today reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is closely tracking the spread of the disease while spearheading efforts to contain and cure it, confirming 15 cases in the United States.
Joining Cuccinelli on the CPAC stage was Rich Valdes, host of the “This Is America” podcast and an associate producer of Mark Levin’s nationally syndicated talk-radio show. The Brooklyn-born Valdes noted that he is Hispanic but stressed the need to look out for the interests of the U.S.
“We have to defend America,” Valdes said. “With the coronavirus, it is so important that we have a firm grip on our borders.”
Cuccinelli, former attorney general of Virginia, said Trump has pushed the task force on the virus to act decisively.
“The president has been very aggressive about this. Only this week, he formally spoke about it, but has been whipping us with wet noodles for weeks now,” Cuccinelli quipped.
“Make no mistake about it, whether it’s border security or the coronavirus, President Trump has made your safety and the safety of America his No. 1 priority,” he said.
Vice President Mike Pence, who spoke Thursday at CPAC, is Trump’s point man on the coronavirus. The president is scheduled to appear Saturday at the conference.
Cuccinelli said the threat of the virus is low now in the U.S., but that could change.
“We have concerns as it spreads outside of China, it becomes much harder to control in the United States,” he said. “We do need to err, as the president said, as a society on the [side of the] possibility this could get worse. He has had us preparing for that.”
“It is a daunting undertaking across the entire government,” Cuccinelli said.
CPAC, the largest annual national gathering of conservative activists, runs through Saturday at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, just outside Washington.