Mexico currently has seven confirmed cases of COVID-19 — the United States has more than 200.
Republicans have begun using the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak to push for Donald Trump's promised border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
"We need the Wall more than ever!" Trump himself tweeted Tuesday morning in response to the worsening outbreak. Trump also claimed the wall is "going up fast," despite the fact that his administration has only built one mile of new wall in three years.
Some Republican members of Congress have also linked the global pandemic to the need for heightened border security, which presumably includes Trump's border wall.
"Our security against a possible global pandemic is only as strong as our control of entry into this country, so any meaningful legislation combating the coronavirus should include the resources we need to finally secure our border," Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) said on Feb. 28. In a December 2018 speech, Byrne said a border wall was a necessary part of securing the southern border.
In a March 8 op-ed, Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) similarly wrote that "it is not unlikely that people from other countries afflicted by the [corona]virus are illegally slipping through our border today." Babin focused his op-ed on Chinese nationals and the need to secure the southern border, which he described as "porous."
"On the eve of a potentially global pandemic, this situation underscores how imperative it is for our country to be able to prevent unidentified individuals from entering the country," Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS), a vocal supporter of Trump's border wall, wrote in a March 2 op-ed.
The idea that a border wall would provide protection from the COVID-19 outbreak does not sit well with some policy experts.
"This is just foolish," Wendy Parmet, director of the Center for Health Policy and Law at Northeastern University School of Law, said in an email Tuesday. "Respiratory diseases don't care about walls or immigration status. If we think we can protect the public from COVID-19 or a similar outbreak by building a wall, we are in big trouble."
Former vice president and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden also criticized Trump for linking a border wall to attempts to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak.
"A wall won't stop a virus. Racism won't stop a virus," he tweeted. "Do your job."
According to the World Health Organization, Mexico has only seven confirmed COVID-19 cases. Central and South America have a combined 87 confirmed cases while Canada has 62.
The WHO reported that the United States has 213 confirmed cases.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials also said in a phone call this week that there had been zero cases of COVID-19 among immigrants detained in its facilities thus far, countering the Republican narrative. Officials did not state how many immigrants had been tested.
Health care experts have warned against the kind of xenophobia and racism Trump and his congressional allies have exhibited amid the current outbreak.
In early March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance saying that "stigma and discrimination can occur when people associate a disease, such as COVID-19, with a population or nationality, even though not everyone in that population or from that region is specifically at risk for the disease." Further, eliminating stigma "is important to making communities and community members resilient."
Much of the racism around COVID-19 has been aimed at Asians and Asian Americans, since the specific strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19 originated in China.
The COVID-19 outbreak has led to "a surge of discriminatory rhetoric and violent attacks against Asian Americans," members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, led by Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), wrote in a Feb. 26 letter to their colleagues.
However, language associating any immigrant with being "dirty" or carrying disease, such as Republicans have done with people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, endorses a racist trope that has no basis in fact.
"There is no evidence to show that migrants are spreading disease," Paul Spiegel, a medical doctor at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, told NBC News in 2018. "That is a false argument that is used to keep migrants out."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.