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COVID-19 and the Remaking of U.S. Immigration Policy? Empirically Evaluating the Myth of Immigration and Disease

April 24, 2020 (1 min read)

Tom K. Wong, USIPC, Apr. 22, 2020

"The myth that immigration brings disease is a centuries-old trope used to heighten anti-immigrant fears and anxieties. To be clear, the myth of immigration and disease is not supported by the academic literature. A recent multi-year study conducted by the UCL-Lancet Commission on Migration and Health provides the most up-to-date review of the academic literature. As one of the authors of the study states explicitly, “There is no evidence to show that migrants are spreading disease.” However, the myth of immigration and disease continues to have significant policy consequences. Against the backdrop of the current global COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump claimed that a wall along our southern border is necessary to “keep the infection and those carrying the infection from entering our country.” Fact checkers at the Washington Post, citing statements made directly by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), gave President Trump four Pinocchios for “an inflammatory claim about people arriving at the southern border and spreading misinformation on a public-health concern.” Still, in addition to partially closing the southern border, the Trump administration invoked a provision of the 1944 Public Health Service Act to turn away nearly all persons, including asylum seekers, who attempt to enter the U.S. without authorization at the southern border. This means that those seeking protection from persecution—including families and unaccompanied minors per a leaked U.S. Customs and Border Protection directive—will no longer be able to request asylum. As the founder and former director of the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project (IRP) puts it, this move “is designed to accomplish under the guise of public health a dismantling of legal protections governing border arrivals that the Trump administration has been unable to achieve under the immigration laws.” "