The Plague Invasion at the Border Is Just GOP Propaganda
Fear of disease was used to keep out the Irish, Italians, Greeks, Jews, and Mexicans. Now it is used to keep out the Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans.
For as long as there have been immigrants and refugees coming to the United States, there have been those who tried to keep them out by labeling them as diseased, infected, or ailing.
Today, Republicans—including those concerned that the white population of the U.S. is declining, while the Latino population continues to grow—are using fear of COVID-19 and the Delta variant as an excuse to keep out refugees from Central America and to shift blame for the rapidly rising infection and hospitalization rates in red states where Republican leaders have resisted basic public-health measures.
It’s ghoulish work, but Republicans with an eye on the midterm elections next year are up to the task.
Sen. Ted Cruz recently told Fox News that President Biden was “trying to play politics with the pandemic” by issuing COVID mandates “while he releases COVID-positive immigrants by the thousands into the state of Texas.” Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott also went on the GOP’s favorite propaganda channel to accuse the Biden administration of “allowing (a) free pass into the United States of people with a high probability of COVID, and then spreading that COVID in our communities.”
Even outsiders are getting into the act—particularly those who may intend to run for president in 2024.
“I can tell you, whatever variants are around the world, they're coming across that southern border,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a press conference.
That’s the fear. It’s based on anxiety about the unknown, and the uncertainty human beings might feel toward others whose intentions are unclear.
Now here are the facts.
The actual numbers are tiny. According to CBS News, officials in McAllen, Texas say that, since February, more than 7,000 migrants who tested positive for COVID-19 have been processed in the border city. Those same officials claim that every day they see more than 1,800 migrants coming into their community. That’s at least 54,000 per month. So, in the six months since February, about 324,000 migrants have passed through the city. Of that figure, only 7,000 tested positive for COVID-19—or 2 percent.
Public health officials say that migrants and refugees are no more likely to have contracted coronavirus than any other travelers crossing the border or any American living in COVID-19 hot spots in the United States. In fact, the cities in the U.S. with the highest positivity rates for the virus are nowhere near the border. But those cities tend to be in red states—where vaccination rates are lower and Republican governors have opposed mask mandates.
There is a familiar historical ring to all this. Those who have studied the history of immigration even have a name for it: “medical racism.” In the mid-19th century, Chinese immigrants to California were associated with sickness and blamed for bringing smallpox, syphilis, trachoma, and the bubonic plague. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was passed in part because of the public fear surrounding the spread of disease.
In the decades that followed, fear of disease would be used to keep out the Irish, Italians, Greeks, Jews, and Mexicans. Now it is used to keep out the Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans.
In McAllen, city officials recently set up an emergency encampment to care for migrants who test positive for the coronavirus after they're released from the custody of U.S. immigration authorities.
One town over, in Edinburg, my friend and fellow Mexican American journalist Macarena Hernandez is feeling confused.
She doesn’t really see the story unfolding in front of her eyes. The way she sees it, this is not a story at all but a big falsehood.
“It’s a go-to lie,” Hernandez told me. “It’s just not a big story here unless you’re watching Fox News. That’s where you find the propaganda that Republicans use to perpetuate fear.”
For Mac, as I call her, the immigration story is driven by outsiders who don’t live in Texas. And that part is all-too familiar.
“Outsiders have been driving the story of the border, and the lies surrounding the border, forever,” she said. “Politicians and the media come down with a preconceived notion of what to expect.”
As a native of the region, Hernandez has had her fill of Easterners who write about a Texas they don’t understand.
“It angers me that some people are using my community, and this region, as a vehicle for hate,” she said. “Immigration is the story of this land, and it has been from the beginning.”
For my friend, there is no invasion on the border—and certainly no plague. There is only fear and truth, and one is constantly battling the other.
People cross borders, and they always have. And other people don’t like that, and this also has always been so.
And sometimes, the folks who want to keep out the others will resort to fear mongering and medical racism to scare up support.
Lies will be told. Accusations will be leveled. Villains will emerge.
This is the game. But we don’t have to play along. If we don’t believe a lie, we take away its power.