The federalist structure as we’ve always known it is under real strain, and the prospect of armed officers patrolling internal borders is emerging fast. If that sounds alarmist, consider that President Trump is currently considering imposing an “enforceable quarantine” in New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut—and that Rhode Island is currently “hunting” for New Yorkers who are seeking refuge from a plague-infested Gotham.
To paraphrase Southwest Airlines, you are no longer free to move about the country.
And this isn’t just a northeastern project. One county in North Carolina has already set up roadblocks to keep people out. Other counties in North Carolina and Florida are reportedly planning to “barricade against visitors, unless they have evidence of a home, job, or other necessity inside the county.”
Texas and Maryland are also ordering people coming in from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to self-quarantine, though they haven't involved the police or the military yet. New York-area residents aren’t the only unwelcome visitors. Florida is also cracking down on arrivals from Louisiana, who, according to Politico, “will be required to tell troopers where they plan to stay. That information will be relayed to local authorities.”
The Sunshine State, it seems, isn’t so sunny... for coronavirus refugees.
“If [the police are] telling you to shelter in place, then do that,” said Florida governor Ron DeSantis on Friday, “But don’t come here, because we’re trying to protect our folks.”
That’s is eerily reminiscent of signs that popped up during the Great Depression: “Jobless men keep going. We can’t take care of our own.”
How long before gubernatorial candidates start promising to “Build! The! Wall!”?
Unusual times bring out unusual responses.
In 1918's flu pandemic, the U.S. governor of American Samoa cut off all traffic with the rest of the world, and American Samoa was the only place on the planet without a recorded case of Spanish flu—which is to say, it worked!
Which is great news… unless you’re seeking sanctuary. Right now, “driving while New York” is a real problem. If your car has New York state tags, that’s probable cause. You’re going to get stopped. Never mind stopping travel from China—we’ve moved on to travel from Tribeca.
But it’s not just the highways and byways that are being policed for refugees. The National Guard is helping Rhode Island police “conduct house-to-house searches to find people who traveled from New York and demand 14 days of self-quarantine,” reports Bloomberg.
Keep in mind that this is being pushed by Rhode Island’s Democratic governor, Gina Raimondo.
“Right now we have a pinpointed risk,” Raimondo said on Friday. “That risk is called New York City.”
If a caravan of Honduran immigrants were headed for Rhode Island, the state’s Democratic governor would probably be much less panicked, and much more hospitable.
Which raises a question: Is this even legal? According to the executive director of the Rhode Island ACLU, the answer is “no.” “Under the Fourth Amendment, having a New York state license plate simply does not, and cannot, constitute ‘probable cause’ to allow police to stop a car and interrogate the driver, no matter how laudable the goal of the stop may be.”
But Raimondo says that she’s consulted with lawyers and that, while she can’t build a wall around the state or close the border, she can enforce a quarantine. What we know for sure is that governors can act more quickly than courts can sort out those questions.
The same goes for local authorities, too, as it’s conceivable that this shunning won’t stop at the edge of state borders, airports and train and bus stations, but also at the edge of city limits.
“We’ve had anecdotal reports of people coming from the city out to second homes on the East End and Fire Island,” the county executive of Suffolk County, Long Island, was quoted as saying the other day.
Suffolk is hardly the only place by a big metro to worry about this, or try to do something about it. Counties in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, for instance, have tried to keep all non-residents out.
If the international Syrian refugee crisis fueled the global rise of nationalism, the international COVID-19 crisis is an accelerant, leading to more localism as states and cities learn to fend for themselves—and treat outsiders like teeming masses of foreign invaders.
For a while, there was a sense that the divide might be between red and blue states, but that seems not to be the case. This is a civil war between the sick and the well, the worried and the confident, and between big city dwellers and the places that big city dwellers like to escape to for the weekend of summer in simpler times. And it all makes for strange bedfellows.
On Tuesday, the governor of Mississippi issued an executive order “superseding a patchwork of local bans on public gatherings” in the state. In effect, he overruled local municipalities that were pushing stricter social distancing.
At the time, it seemed like a smart move for a Republican politician to make.
I’m not so sure it will age that well.