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U.S. Racist Immigration Policy Is Spreading the Virus, Not Containing It

Building on the existing horrors of the U.S. border, the Trump administration has used the pandemic as an opportunity to continue to enact racist and nationalist immigration policies, to the point of threatening to deport people even after they have tested positive for COVID-19.

Rebecca Margolies

May 14, 2020
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Image: Prisoners in an immigration detention center in Louisiana protest unsafe conditions (Reuters)

United States immigration policy has always, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, been racist and murderous, violently enforcing the farce of borders on stolen land and protecting the free flow of capital by preventing the free flow of people. In recent years, it has become even more deadly, as Trump’s hyper-nationalistic policies and closing of any safe avenue for entry deliberately force people to risk their lives to enter the United States. Horrifyingly, though unsurprisingly, the Trump administration has used COVID-19 as an opportunity to continue to crack down on immigration, both through stepped-up enforcement and attempts at a full ban

Even when there is not a pandemic, time spent in the custody of ICE can be a death sentence. Under COVID-19, however, not only are those in immigration detention even more vulnerable to infection and severe illness themselves, but the U.S. government’s lack of regard for the life of migrants puts everyone caught up in the vast prison industry at risk, as transfers between immigration facilities and local jails continue, spreading COVID-19 back and forth. For instance, at a for-profit ICE detention center in Texas, 31 detainees and 7 employees tested positive for COVID-19. Nationwide, there are 800 confirmed cases in immigration detention centers, a number that is almost definitely a fraction of true cases, given that ICE refuses to test most imprisoned migrants. 

After crowding people together in prisons with few cleaning options and often no access to  medical facilities once they are exposed to COVID-19, ICE then continues to deport people, not only tearing apart families and terrorizing communities as usual, but also spreading a deadly illness around the world, often to the countries that are least equipped to deal with the pandemic. For instance, until resistance caused them to at least momentarily change course, ICE planned to deport five Haitians who had already tested positive for COVID-19 while in detention.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created new problems, but more than that, it has made starker the existing horrors of capitalism and the legacy of colonialism, borders that only exist for the working class and racialized among them. The US immigration crisis is a problem made worse by COVID-19, but not one that will be solved by the pandemic’s ending. The only solution, during the pandemic and after, is to close all concentration camps, abolish all anti-migrant forces, open the borders, provide full social and political rights for migrants, and to end US imperialism.

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