Matthew Tragesser, This week, White House COVID-19 response leader Dr. Anthony Fauci could not answer why the Omicron variant screening process for individuals arriving lawfully to the United States is different than the process for those arriving unlawfully at the southern border.
Fauci claimed it was a “different issue.” Why he views these two groups differently is unclear, but what is clear is that COVID remains rampant at the southern border with virtually non-existent mitigation protocols in place. Should Dr. Fauci and the Biden administration want to protect the public health interests of Americans (as the administration has recently stated) they must also consider revamping its southern border COVID protocols and treat all foreign nationals—whether arriving lawfully or unlawfully—as one.
COVID is raging at our southern border due to the Biden administration’s immigration policies that incentivize hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens to make the trek to the U.S.-Mexico border. Most arrive from the Northern Triangle countries, where vaccination rates in Guatemala and Honduras remain at less than 40 percent. Many others come from extra-continental countries—including from Africa—where vaccination rates remain in the single digits.
Migrants often travel in large groups — something that the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) highly discourages to help avoid spread of the disease. Once migrants arrive at the border, they are often not tested for the disease, have no vaccine requirements, and are not required to self-quarantine. Instead, U.S. officials release them into the interior of the country and fly or bus them to their destination of choice. There are also many cases of officials releasing COVID-positive migrants into the country.
Moreover, the Biden administration has yet to fully utilize Title 42 as an effective tool to safeguard public health. This public health order allows immigration authorities to promptly remove illegal aliens from the country to help prevent the spread of COVID that can occur in processing and detention facilities, and within American communities.
While the administration has not removed the order, it has not been applying it to most family units and unaccompanied minors arriving at the southern border. Of the some 1.7 million illegal aliens encountered at the southern border in Fiscal Year 2021, President Biden’s policies exempted almost half from removal under the order. This means hundreds of thousands of migrants were released into the country with often unknown medical statuses after entering the country unlawfully.
President Biden and his administration have shown that travel bans can be effective in mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Besides the latest African travel ban, the Biden administration placed prior travel bans on most European countries, Brazil, China, India, Iran, and South Africa due to concerns over the disease.
And so, if it can bar people from entering the country legally due to public health concerns, barring those who enter our southern border unlawfully should be a no-brainer— especially if they are coming from high risk countries and arriving in high risk circumstances. This concept can be accomplished by maintaining the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) program, or issuing memorandums that do not allow for the wholesale release of illegal aliens into the country.
Clamping down on illegal entries would protect the interests of Americans but also migrants as they would not jeopardize their time, money, and well-being from taking the dangerous trek to the U.S.-Mexico border.
By calling illegal alien COVID screening at the southern border a “different issue,” Dr. Fauci minimized the significance of the disease threat in the region. Data and testimony reveal that COVID remains a serious concern among illegal aliens at the U.S.-Mexico border and they cannot be treated differently than those arriving lawfully to our country. Should Dr. Fauci and the Biden administration seek to protect the health and well-being of American citizens amid this global pandemic, they must look to revamp its southern border public health protocols and acknowledge that the disease does not discriminate.
Matthew Tragesser is communications manager at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in Washington D.C.