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Pandemic restrictions set dangerous precedents

Federal and state governments have suspended the liberties of citizens during the pandemic using vague lockdown orders that could infringe on Americans’ rights.

We currently find ourselves gradually coming out of a lockdown imposed by the federal government to help control the spread of the coronavirus. Without these measures, we would have had many more infections and even more deaths than the nearly 100,000 in the U.S. and over 2,200 in Florida, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The lockdown and many of the policies enacted in the effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus, however, have put a strain on the rights of U.S. citizens. 

It is necessary in some crises to temporarily suspend the liberties of citizens to ensure the safety and continuation of the nation, but policies should reflect that temporary status in their wording. However, there have been instances of both state and national leaders pushing for seemingly indefinite emergency measures. 

On May 13, the Trump administration announced its plan to extend the border restrictions put in place to help slow the spread of the coronavirus indefinitely, according to the New York Times. In a draft of the order, President Donald Trump stated, “I am extending the duration of the order until I determine that the danger of further introduction of COVID-19 into the United States has ceased to be a danger to the public health.” 

This part of the order would allow the government to hold our borders closed indefinitely on a technicality so long as the coronavirus is active in either the U.S. or its neighboring countries.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was created by the United Nations and included in the International Bill of Human Rights, affirms that “everyone has the right to  freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state” and “everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” If the borders are held closed indefinitely, the U.S. will be in clear violation of this right. 

The federal government is not the only one that has pushed for these measures though. State governments have taken some of the strictest stances against the coronavirus, and California is chief among them.

In May, Gov. Gavin Newsom talked about extending the lockdown in California until the virus was no longer a threat. In a similar respect to the Trump administration’s wording with the border lockdown, Newsom’s policy could have been used to justify an indefinite lockdown in the state. 

The backlash that Newsom received from business owners and Republicans in California has since caused him to allow the state to begin reopening in a limited way. There is now a plan in place and requirements for further reopening in the state from the state government, though the current requirements will not allow most counties to reopen for some time. 

The U.S. has always put individual liberty and personal freedoms above all and that should not stop now. The suspension of rights can be an important part of keeping this nation safe at times of crisis, but the measures that put them in place should detail a specific length of time that they will stay in place. 

Using wording that would allow for indefinite emergency measures could allow for those in charge to extend their power at the cost of citizens’ rights. We need to think about the future when enacting policies that will provide only short-term relief. 

Timothy Foley is a sophomore majoring in history and political science.