Yazdani: Americans cannot deport their way out of the Coronavirus

Before the rapid spread of COVID-19, the Trump administration was known for its anti-immigration rhetoric, especially concerning undocumented migrants. President Donald Trump has pledged to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The White House’s anti-immigration sentiment was so intense that it threatened to stop funding sanctuary cities in March. The rise of COVID-19 has only exacerbated American migrant policy.

Although the U.S. is beginning to phase out of virus-related lockdown, the government has severely tightened border control measures. Because of these measures, only two migrants who sought humanitarian protection were allowed to stay in the U.S. Of nearly 16,000 undocumented immigrants rounded up at the southern border, 14,416 were deported by the U.S., citing public health concerns. Even though border restrictions are necessary to curtail the spread of COVID-19, the current measures will only encourage anti-immigration rhetoric in the future. In order to rebuild the U.S. after this virus, we must gradually loosen border restrictions and welcome migrants. 

The slew of deportations in the U.S. following COVID-19 sets a worrisome precedent for future migrants and their native countries. Since the spread of the disease, thousands of undocumented immigrants have been deported, some of whom were infected with COVID-19. After sick Guatemalan migrants were deported to Guatemala, President Alejandro Giammattei said the U.S. is not an ally of Guatemala. 

Between March and April, the U.S. and Mexico deported at least 6,500 Guatemalans, 5,000 Hondurans and 1,600 Salvadorans. According to general coordinator Sergio Martin of Doctors Without Borders, most countries receiving these deportees have weak healthcare systems. The lack of infrastructure to deal with the pandemic could devastate these countries if more sick migrants return.Instead of prioritizing testing availability, encouraging sheltering in place and increasing beds in hospitals, , the White House has used the virus to catapult sick migrants back to their countries. 

Rather than deport and blame thousands of migrants for the virus, the U.S. should reconsider reopening businesses too soon until cases actually diminish and instead loosen the border restrictions. There have been more than 1.5 million Americans infected with COVID-19, and the U.S. remains the worst-infected nation. Moreover, at least 24 states have been unable to curtail the spread of the pandemic. Yet the White House continues to tighten border control, deport more immigrants and rebuke Asylum seekers. The U.S. should watch its own citizens first.

The rise of COVID-19 is not an excuse to expel thousands of migrants. Sending infected immigrants to their home countries will  jeopardize the governments which lack strong health systems. Meanwhile, the U.S. is loosening lockdown guidelines and allowing businesses to reopen. The White House should not ease sheltering-in-place restrictions, but instead ease border restrictions for those who must escape their countries.