Three Ways Trump is Using COVID-19 as an Excuse to Harm Migrants

Mother with her three kids.
(Photo Credit: Lynda M. Gonzalez)

Since Donald Trump has taken office, his administration has dedicated considerable resources to eviscerating legal protections for migrants. Trump’s legal advisers have meticulously parsed out and changed immigration law to make it functionally impossible for someone to be granted relief in the U.S. Indeed, ostensibly to stop the spread of COVID-19, the Trump administration has effectively shut down the border. Here are 3 of the most recent and insidious ways Trump is using COVID-19 to exacerbate the border crisis he help create:

Denying Due Process to Asylum Seekers, Including Children

Using the COVID-19 as an excuse, the Trump administration has created a “shadow system” of immigration where unaccompanied children are being held, not in government custody as would usually be the case, but in private hotels after cursory screenings from border officials and without the legally mandated hearing before an immigration judge. These children are held for undetermined periods of time, without access to counsel or family members, and in unclear custody. Thousands of children have been “expelled,” a euphemism for deported without due process, since March under this provision. Despite the right-wing dream of shutting down the border to any new migrant, asylum seekers are still in search of refuge and the United States is still party to treaties that obligate it to offer asylum to those who qualify for it. Squalid makeshift camps, a recipe for rapid COVID-19 spread, have been created along the US/Mexico border as people are left without support from either country indefinitely, hoping the border will eventually reopen. Earlier this month, a Guatemalan man drowned in the Rio Grande attempting to cross into the U.S. after waiting 8 months in one of these border camps.

Trump continues to build an expensive and unnecessary wall, damaging sacred indigenous sites

The Trump administration continues to build a border wall despite desecrating sacred indigenous sites in doing so, ignoring the demands of indigenous communities and allies to stop construction, and creating more deadly opportunities for COVID-19 to spread. The planned area for construction contains multiple sacred sites to the O’odham people including carved rock formations likely used as ceremonial spaces by O’odham ancestors and a burial site. U.S. Customs and Border Protection waived multiple laws, including some meant to preserve sacred indigenous sites and artifacts, in order to speed up construction in Arizona. Now, thousands of construction workers from all over the country are flooding rural border towns and are housed in cramped quarters as wall construction continues.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continues to mismanage the spread of COVID-19 within its facilities

COVID-19 rages inside of ICE detention facilities, including in La Palma Correctional Center in Southern Arizona, where 233 additional confirmed cases spiked days ago. The facility now has the highest number of active COVID-19 cases of any ICE facility in the country. A 50 year-old Honduran man who was held at a Texas ICE facility is the latest person to have died from COVID-19 while in custody. He was the seventh detainee to die from COVID-related reasons and the nineteenth detainee to die in ICE custody during the 2020 fiscal year.

The Trump administration’s claims of shutting down the border to stop COVID-19 is just another example of this administration’s reckless mismanagement of the pandemic and of doing more to spread the virus than to stop it.

An American tourist yells at a young Mexican girl in Durango, Mexico, as they anticipate witnessing the solar eclipse.

On April 8, many in parts of the United States and Mexico were gearing up to watch the total solar eclipse. In the city of Durango, Mexico, residents were particularly excited because they would enjoy the most visibility of this rare phenomenon. People gathered in public spaces, including one of the most popular spots, the lookout of “El Cerro de los Remedios,” which offers panoramic views of the city. However, residents’ excitement turned sour when a group of U.S. tourists claimed to have rented the entire front area of the public space, keeping everyone else from accessing prime area with the best vantage point.

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