DHS chief calls coronavirus screening delays in Chicago ‘unacceptable’

Greg Nash

Acting Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Chad Wolf on Sunday acknowledged that delays in coronavirus screenings for passengers returning to the U.S. through Chicago’s O’Hare airport were “unacceptable,” asserting the government had made the necessary adjustments to avoid similar crowding.

The Trump administration last week restricted travel for non-citizens from most of Europe and routed Americans returning home through 13 designated airports for screening. Wolf said officials screened more than 40,000 passengers on Saturday, which led to bottlenecks and confusion in Chicago in particular. 

“That is an enormous challenge we’ve placed on our officers and contract medical staff at airports, and they are stepping up,” Wolf told reporters at the White House. “The lines that we saw overnight at a limited number of airports, including Chicago, are unacceptable.”

“We did make the necessary adjustments at 12 of the funneling airports, however, again at Chicago those adjustments were not made quick enough, but we have course corrected,” he added, saying acting Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Mark Morgan had been in contact with agents.

Wolf said the average wait time at the 13 designated airports was 30 minutes for passengers returning on Sunday, though some photos circulated online of long lines.

“I understand the frustration that some passengers who are returning to the U.S. might have with some of these procedures,” Wolf said. “But I would just say rest assured that we are continuing our strict protocols of looking at individuals as they come into the country, make sure that they are medically screened, make sure that we are capturing the information for the public health officials.”

In an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus domestically, the president last week announced restrictions on travel for most of Europe. He expanded the ban on Saturday to include the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The administration later rolled out stricter screening processes for travelers returning from those areas, routing them through 13 major airports. Among those most affected was O’Hare, already one of the nation’s busiest airports.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-Ill.) tweeted that the lines and lack of organization were “unacceptable” and called on the Trump administration to “get its s@#t together. NOW.” 

Vice President Pence said Sunday that he spoke with Pritzker on the phone about the situation.

Tags Chad Wolf Coronavirus travel travel restrictions
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