WASHINGTON — President Trump’s order restricting travel back to the United States to slow the spread of the new coronavirus has led to chaotic scenes and dangerous conditions at several major airports. Disturbing new photos show hundreds of returning travelers crammed together at Chicago’s O’Hare airport and Dallas-Fort Worth airport as they wait to go through customs, undergo health screenings, and reenter the country. In Chicago, returning international travelers reportedly waited for hours to retrieve their baggage and go through customs and health checks.
In a new interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) criticized the Trump administration’s failure to help cities and states prepare their airports for the influx of returning travelers. And when Pritzker tweeted on Saturday night that the “crowds & lines O’Hare are unacceptable” and the administration needed to “do something NOW,” Pritzker says the response he received a phone call from an angry White House staffer.
Pritzker told NBC’s Chuck Todd that, in response to Trump’s new travel restrictions, the federal government needed to increase the number of personnel working for Customs and Border Protection and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that are processing incoming travelers returning from overseas.
“They did neither of those,” Pritzker said. “So last night, as people were flooding into O’Hare airport, they were stuck in a small area, hundreds and hundreds of people. That’s exactly what you don’t want in this pandemic.”
If the customs agency and CDC don’t ramp up their personnel, Pritzker went on, Sunday’s scenes at O’Hare could be even worse. “There are a larger number of flights with more people coming,” Pritzker said. Federal agencies, he added, “seem completely unprepared.”
Todd asked Pritzker if he had gotten any reassurances from the White House after Pritzker tweeted directly at President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the administration’s response to the new coronavirus pandemic.
These crowds are waiting to get through customs which is under federal jurisdiction
— Governor JB Pritzker (@GovPritzker) March 15, 2020
“Here’s what I got,” Pritzker said. “I got call at about 11 o’clock last night after that tweet from a White House staffer who yelled at me about the tweet.”
Pritzker said his administration was now talking directly with Customs and Border Protection officials on the ground at O’Hare to try to prevent more hours-long waits and slow the spread of coronavirus. “I’ve been working with the mayor and our senators to make sure we’re getting the federal government to pay attention to this problem,” he said, “because we can’t have it happen all day today.”
Watch Pritzker’s interview with Meet the Press:
WATCH: @GovPritzker says today will be "even worse" after massive crowds at airports last night, because of lack of federal response.
"At about 11 o'clock last night … I got a call from a White House staffer who yelled at me about [my] tweet. That is what I got." pic.twitter.com/ClG7E0Md8a
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) March 15, 2020