By Ronny Rojas, Noticias Telemundo
As the delta variant contributes to a surge of Covid-19 cases around the United States, different voices have emerged blaming people entering the country — in particular, migrants crossing the U.S. border — for the spread.
Among the most vocal are Republican Govs. Greg Abbott in Texas and Ron DeSantis in Florida.
Abbott has repeatedly blamed undocumented immigrants for the rise in Covid-19 cases in the state and issued an executive order to limit the transport of migrants in Texas who may transmit the virus. The Justice Department called the order “dangerous and unlawful”; a judge temporarily blocked it.
DeSantis, for his part, blamed President Joe Biden for importing the virus from around the world “by having a wide open southern border.”
“You have over 100 different countries where people are pouring through,” DeSantis said Aug. 4. “Not only are they letting them through, they’re then farming them out all across our communities across this country, putting them on planes, putting them on buses.”
Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds voiced a similar view in late July, claiming that while Americans grapple with Covid restrictions, there are “people coming across the border that haven’t been vaccinated.”
Last week, while discussing the possibility of ordering the use of masks in schools, members of school boards from two counties in North Carolina accused undocumented immigrants of causing the increase in Covid-19 cases in the country, The Charlotte Observer reported.
In addition, about one-third of unvaccinated citizens believe foreigners traveling to the U.S. are the cause of the increase in coronavirus infections, according to an Axios-Ipsos survey published Aug. 3.
But there’s no evidence to support these types of accusations. While it is true that people entering the country without permission could be contributing to the overall number of Covid-19 cases — as has been the case recently in McAllen, Texas — experts believe the impact of these cases does not make a difference in the American health situation.
Not migration, but low vaccination rates
It is not migratory patterns that explain the recent outbreaks of Covid-19, but the low vaccination rates in certain states, Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at New York University School of Medicine, told Noticias Telemundo.
“In some states, it isn’t clear that there is very much migration right now at all, although there are big outbreaks,” Caplan said. “As far as I know, the migration patterns in the past month are more north than south. That does not correlate at all.”
The 10 states with the highest rates of Covid-19 infections in the past seven days are located in the South, including in Florida and Texas, where DeSantis and Abbott are preventing schools from mandating masks amid rising Covid-19 cases among children — though some schools and districts are defying the governors and requiring masks.
Although immigrants may be contributing to the overall Covid-19 case numbers, Caplan said the increase in infections and current outbreak patterns across the country are actually in response to policies that discourage the use of masks, vaccinations and the isolation of Covid-19 patients.
Take the example of Mississippi, one of the five states with the lowest percentages of undocumented immigrants in the country, according to estimates by the Pew Research Center. It’s currently the state with the lowest vaccination rate nationally — and it ranked third in Covid-19 infections per 100,000 people last week. In Mississippi, less than 36 percent of residents are fully vaccinated, according to government data.
Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that contrary to what DeSantis has said, the state’s Covid-19 surge is due to its low vaccination rate.
“Florida is really one of the worst in the sense of the number of new cases and the number of hospitalizations,” Fauci told a CBS local newscast in Tampa, Florida. “This is fundamentally an outbreak, a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and given the relative lower level of vaccinations in Florida compared to some of the other states, you are much more vulnerable.”
For Caplan, blaming immigrants — undocumented or not — for the recent outbreaks of Covid-19 is not only wrong, but “racist.”
“There is a very long history in the United States, sadly, of blaming recent immigrants,” Caplan said. “They are always trying to blame outsiders for ‘diseases,’ and there isn’t any evidence, particularly right now, when we know why there are big outbreaks in the South.”
“I don’t see anything except racism and bigotry behind pointing the finger at immigrants,” Caplan added.
William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, recently told PolitiFact that given the extensive transmission already in the U.S., “the immigration contribution is akin to pouring a bucket of water into a swimming pool.”
“It’s hard to measure and pretty trivial,” Schaffner said.
The borders are not open
Another false claim that’s been repeated around Covid-19 is that the country’s borders are wide open and anyone can enter, just as DeSantis put it. That is not the case.
In March 2020, the U.S. closed its land borders with Mexico and Canada to nonessential travel such as tourism. The measure has been extended on a monthly basis since then.
In addition, since the end of January, federal health authorities have required a negative Covid-19 test for international travelers, including citizens and residents, who arrive in the United States by air.
On the southern border, U.S. Border Patrol has expelled 750,000 people who have crossed into the U.S., even those seeking asylum, under a public health order, known as Title 42, first put in effect by former President Donald Trump and now maintained by the Biden administration.
On July 30, the U.S. resumed fast-track deportation flights of migrant families that recently arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border, taking them to Central America or southern Mexico.
The number of people currently arriving at the southern border is the highest in decades. Border Patrol detained nearly 180,000 migrants in June, the highest number since March 2000.
The Biden administration has expelled fewer people who have migrated to the U.S. than the Trump administration: While in December, 85 percent of those who were detained were expelled from the country, in June that figure was 58 percent, the lowest since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
But this does not mean all the people who managed to stay continue their way into the country. Of the 75,000 immigrants without legal status detained in June who were not expelled, just over half remain in the custody of federal or local authorities; some are transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and others end up under police or sheriff custody, as they had pending matters with the justice system.
The rest are released with the order to appear before an immigration court months later.
A version of this story was first published in Noticias Telemundo.