No, immigrants aren't spreading COVID to Americans like Republicans claim


Despite xenophobic claims by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and GOP lawmakers, immigrants detained at the border are not being released 'untested' into the country.

Republicans are back to blaming immigrants for the spread of the coronavirus in the United States, even as officials like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott reverse crucial safety measures intended to curb the pandemic.

Facing pushback for his announcement on Tuesday, lifting the statewide mask mandate and other coronavirus safety restrictions, Abbott went on the defensive, claiming in an interview with CNBC on Thursday that Biden had put Texans in danger by "releasing immigrants" into the state.

"His administration has been releasing in South Texas immigrants who came across the border that they refuse to test," Abbott claimed. "[...] It turned out there were more than 100 of them who had COVID."

He then claimed, "some of those people have been put on buses, taken to other states in the United States," adding, "The Biden administration must stop importing COVID."

Abbott had tweeted similarly racist comments one day prior. "The Biden Administration is recklessly releasing hundreds of illegal immigrants who have COVID into Texas communities," he wrote on Wednesday. "The Biden Admin. must IMMEDIATELY end this callous act that exposes Texans & Americans to COVID."

Abbott is far from the only Republican to make such claims.

"We are still in the middle of a global health pandemic yet Biden continues to release illegal aliens into the interior of our country unvetted and untested for #COVID19," Texas Rep. Brian Babin tweeted on Thursday. "Does this make you feel safe? It shouldn't."

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) tweeted on Tuesday, "The Biden administration has allowed illegal immigrants to cross the border without COVID tests. This reckless policy needs to end now."

But those remarks aren't rooted in reality.

Noticias Telemundo Investiga on Tuesday reported that while 108 migrants had indeed tested positive for the coronavirus since the city of Brownsville, Texas began administering tests on Jan. 25, those infected were instructed to follow "quarantine procedures and are asked to socially distance," according to the city's communications director.

He said several non-governmental organizations and nonprofits in the border area were providing resources to help the immigrants quarantine away from others in shelters or hotels.

Additionally, Abbott's claim that immigrants were being released by federal officials "untested" is misleading at best.

CNN reported that Abbott has been "stalling" the Biden administration's attempts to assist the state in testing immigrants released from custody.

"[The Department of Homeland Security] has already set plans in motion to use Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to support community efforts to test, isolate and quarantine migrants released from Border Patrol custody [...]," the outlet wrote, citing a senior department official. "But the grant money needs to be approved by the state before it can be distributed to border communities."

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials also say they've had testing protocols in place since early in the pandemic.

Though Politifact noted that their efficacy could be debated, the outlet determined it would be "inaccurate to say there's 'no way to screen' people."

Immigrants have long been a target for those looking to exploit the pandemic for their xenophobic agendas. Donald Trump, whose administration was heavily criticized for mishandling the crisis in its entirety, as well as his officials frequently used the coronavirus as an excuse to ban refugees and immigrants from coming into the United States, typically under the guide of public health and national security.

"... We do not have facilities that can quarantine tens, scores, hundreds, thousands of people. This creates a new wrinkle to the crisis where we have to look at ways to bar entry," former acting deputy DHS secretary Ken Cuccinelli said in February 2020.

And PBS noted in July last year that the World Health Organization itself had even panned the idea of longterm border closures, writing that while "strict international travel measures may work temporarily to delay introduction of the virus into a particular country for up to two months and delay spread by three to four months," evidence had shown restrictions to be "ineffective in most situations," according to the international health group.

Meanwhile, Abbott's own actions could end up exacerbating the ongoing health crisis.

Against the advice of health experts, the Texas governor announced Tuesday that any type of business would be permitted to operate at 100% capacity, starting on March 10. And according to the Texas Tribune, three of Abbott's four COVID-19 advisers claimed they were not consulted about lifting the statewide mask mandate before he made the decision.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.