March 20 (UPI) -- The United States and Mexico have agreed to suspend non-essential travel across the border for 30 days to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus disease, President Donald Trump said Friday at a White House briefing.
The new restrictions will take effect at midnight Friday, but won't apply to "lawful commerce" or those traveling for work reasons.
Trump, who has spent his entire presidency trying to clamp down on unlawful migration across the southern border, announced a similar restriction along the northern border with Canada this week.
"We are treating the borders equally," Trump said at Friday's briefing. "They are both being treated equally. A lot of people say they're not treated equally. Well, they are."
"Both our countries know the importance of working together to limit the spread of the virus and ensure that commerce that supports our economies continues to keep flowing," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added.
Trump said the move to bar non-essential travel along both borders is a measure to prevent mass migration that could "badly deplete" healthcare resources in the United States, which has more than 14,300 coronavirus cases, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The school said 210 have died and the number of recoveries so far is 121.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar also announced a major change in the way the United States deals with migrants who are captured unlawfully crossing into the United States along both borders. On orders of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said, the migrants will be sent back to Mexico or Canada without detention or processing.
"We're talking about significant numbers of illegal immigrants," he said. "In this past October through February, [the Department of Homeland Security] has processed more than 21,000 inadmissable aliens at the northern border and more than 151,000 inadmissiable aliens at the southern border.
"Their facilities were never designed to hold large numbers of people and to protect agents and migrants during a pandemic."
Trump also announced Friday that the Education Department has suspended requirements for standardized school testing, due to school closures nationwide.