“Is it a pandemic of the migrants? No, it is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Washington, DC – For weeks, we have been highlighting how the Republican strain of COVID-19 scapegoating has spread like a virus within the Republican Party echo chamber (see here, here, here and here). From Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis to Tucker Carlson and Newt Gingrich, right wingers are desperately trying to avoid accountability for increased infections, hospitalizations and deaths by scapegoating immigrants and refugees encountered at the border.
Yesterday, the Associated Press set the record straight. In an explainer written by Jude Joffe-Block, the AP reported facts: the surge in COVID-19 cases is caused by the low vaccination rates in parts of America, not immigrants arriving at the southern border; asylum-seekers who are allowed to enter America are tested for COVID-19 and if they test positive, they are placed in hotel rooms to quarantine.
AP quotes Dr. Ivan Melendez, who serves as the local health authority in Hidalgo County, Texas, who said, “Is it a pandemic of the migrants? No, it is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Associated Press: EXPLAINER: How do border policies affect US infection rates?
As the delta variant fuels an increase of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., some of President Joe Biden’s critics blame the surge on his border policies, which allow some migrants to enter the country to apply for asylum.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last week accused Biden of “helping to facilitate” the spread of the coronavirus. Fox News host Sean Hannity referred to migrants causing “the biggest super-spreader event” and incorrectly asserted that none was being tested.
But public health experts say arriving migrants are not driving the rising infections in the U.S. The main culprits are people who refuse to get vaccinated. Furthermore, migrants who are allowed to enter are generally tested for COVID-19 and given hotel rooms to quarantine if they test positive, though federal authorities have not made data available about such cases.
The key factors behind the recent spike in COVID-19 cases are people in U.S. communities who are unvaccinated and are not following guidance from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the highly contagious delta variant, according to public health experts.
At a news conference last week, Dr. Ivan Melendez, who serves as the local health authority in Hidalgo County, Texas, acknowledged that arriving migrants were “part of the problem” but he also said they did not pose any more of a danger than he does. “I have been in seven COVID units today.”
He said migrants are not responsible for introducing the virus nor do they have higher infection rates compared with the general population.
“Is it a pandemic of the migrants? No, it is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Melendez said.
The number of arriving migrants is far too small to be driving the enormous increases in cases across the U.S., said Dr. Joseph McCormick, a physician and former CDC epidemiologist now based at the Brownsville campus of the University of Texas Health Science Center at the Houston School of Public Health.
“Given what we are seeing now across the country, it just doesn’t work to try to attribute that to migrants,” McCormick said. Furthermore, experts say, the delta variant, which was first identified in India, began circulating in the U.S. before it was in Mexico or other parts of Latin America, where most migrants arrive from.
“So the claim that migrants entering from the southern border brought delta to the U.S. is baseless rhetoric,” said Max Hadler, senior policy director for Physicians for Human Rights, in a statement. “Rates are increasing everywhere, in every state in the country. It’s not a border issue or a migrant issue, it’s a national issue.”
As for people who evade the Border Patrol and enter the United States undetected, there is no reason to suspect that they would have higher rates of COVID-19 infection, McCormick said.
According to Douglas Rivlin, Director of Communication for America’s Voice:
The Associated Press got the story right. COVID is surging because of low vaccination rates and poor governance in mostly Republican states. The explainer obliterates the malignant GOP lie that migrants are the cause. Between them, Governors like Abbott of Texas and DeSantis of Florida have overseen increases in COVID infections on a par with the worst outbreaks in the world.
And they call themselves “governors.”
At a time when essential workers in health care, the food industry and the care economy are helping to keep us all alive, it is important to remember that many of those essential workers are immigrants and some are undocumented. Yet Republicans persist in politicizing COVID and spreading misinformation to further – or perhaps save – their own political careers.
Fear-mongering about immigrants and disease is something desperate politicians have done throughout our history, from the Chinese Exclusion Act in the 19th century to the current COVID hysteria. The truth is that unvaccinated Americans are the most important drivers of the new outbreak and elected officials and media personalities do not make the country safer or Americans healthier with their cynical scapegoating of immigrants.