Todd Bensman, Last month, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey uttered forbidden words that drew such hot-stove backlash that neither he nor any other border state governor has dared repeat them.
Mexican Covid patients with dual U.S. citizenship, Ducey told President Trump’s coronavirus task force during a June 22 governor’s conference call, were driving Arizona’s spiking numbers by crossing the border and “seeking the superior healthcare of our system in our border counties.”
The punditocracy came for Ducey, their xenophobia and racism daggers unsheathed. The governor’s “vile comments,” wrote State Sen. Martin Quezada (D-Glendale) in The Tucson Sentinel, “directly endanger the lives of people like me and people who look like me.” The Arizona Republic’s Elvia Diaz scoffed in a June 23 column that Ducy’s “blame the Mexicans routine” was intended to distract from the one true cause of the state’s Covid case escalation: his relaxation of lockdown and Memorial Day restrictions. “Blaming the Mexicans, Mexico or even Americans with dual citizenship in Mexico for the Covid-19 uptick,” she wrote, “is laughable at best.”
Gov. Ducey shut up. But not Trump. On Wednesday, the president blamed an influx from Mexico, among other sources, for the current outbreak spread. Good, because the cumulative evidence is with Ducey and Trump, according to a content analysis of Mexican and U.S. media reporting, public statements of officials, and hospitalization data. Collectively, it shows that a significant but unknown percentage of severely ill dual Mexican-American citizens, legal permanent residents, and Mexican visa-holders of various sorts infected inside Mexico, and yes, illegal immigrants, in May, began flooding over the California border to escape besieged Baja State hospitals. The Covid refugee flow continued into Arizona border hospitals as the Mexico contagion swept eastward through Sonora, Coahuila, and then to Texas as Tamaulipas hospitals broke down in June and into July. Before this southern wave washed northward, Trump administration officials privately fretted and planned for it. But, when their communications leaked, Latino advocacy groups roundly pilloried them as xenophobic.
And so the flow continues, protected by a cocoon of political fear and denialism.
Evidence piled to the rafters
The Trump administration closed the American border March 20 to all “non-essential” travelers, which boiled down to a squishy ban on recreation but still allowed anyone with a visa, border-crossing card, or LPR status to cross unimpeded on their word that they were essential or, significantly, if they claimed to need U.S. medical services.
Naturally, as sister city Mexican hospitals across from Texas and the other high-population border states filled to collapse, anyone with visas or legal status found no hindrance using them to cross over ports of entry. According to credible media reporting dating to May, these patients spiked hospitalization numbers first in California, then in Arizona and Texas, concurrently with community spread.
Relative percentages of these two distinct but converging rivers remain publicly unknown because few seem willing to approach politically dangerous shoals for a breakdown that would inform the best public policy responses. (I have filed a FOIA request and two public information requests in Texas).
But we know enough from national media reporting dating to May, seemingly eons before today’s second-wave spikes and never repeated since. Way back then, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal all reported that Covid-19 patients, infected in Mexico, were arriving in substantial numbers over California and Arizona ports of entry and filling local hospitals as Baja and Sonora state health systems across the frontier were collapsing.
The June 7 Times story “Coronavirus Jumps the Border, Overwhelming Hospitals in California” reported so many sick patients had poured over the border that California was forced to activate the “extraordinary response” of transporting them to San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Sacramento, in a helicopter airlift and aboard a fleet of ambulances. All of this just happened to coincide, the newspaper reported, with the lifting of stay-at-home restrictions and the reopening of businesses, which today, as we know, are solely blamed for California’s spike.
The same piece attributed a similar influx pattern into Arizona border town hospitals, citing state health officials as saying the influx was “tied to people coming in from Sonora state.”
The Times reporting corroborated a May 27 Washington Post story that Mexicans with dual citizenship, green card holders, and American retirees sick with coronavirus “posed an unprecedented challenge” to California, as they fled packed Tijuana hospitals that could no longer accept patients. The story estimated that approximately half the coronavirus patients in several California border hospitals had come in from Mexico “as California is trying to reopen.” Many of these border patients were being shipped to Los Angeles hospitals.
A May 11 Wall Street Journal story citing all of the same circumstances noted that the crisis of Covid patients swamping hospitals south of San Diego posed “a new threat” distinct from spread that might arise from the easing of social-distancing restrictions.
On June 29, CNN reported the Mexican visa-holders and American expatriates were coming up to California ports of entry aboard ambulances, or calling ambulances to the port as they were crossing on foot. The piece quoted Carmela Coyle, president and CEO of the California Hospital Association calling what was underway “an unprecedented surge across the border.” California’s emergency medical services authority head, Dr. David Duncan, told CNN that “the steady stream” coming into Imperial County was like “gas on the fire” that will “continue to escalate and fuel the Covid pressures that we see.”
None of those newspapers quote their own reporting these days, let alone the more recent statements of top government and medical officials telling local press of a substantial cross-border Covid influx.
For instance, DHS Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan acknowledged to Breitbart Texas News that “hospital beds are being filled up along the southwest border hotspots” by Covid-infected Mexicans with Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status and also U.S. citizens living in Mexico. Earlier, Morgan told a Senate subcommittee that “several hundred” of his agents were infected with the virus due to “high-risk contact” with infected migrants.
In Texas’s Rio Grande Valley on the Mexico border, where almost every hospital stands overwhelmed with Covid patients, Dr. Ivonne Lopez, Medical Director of the McAllen Hospital Group at McAllen Medical Center told local media that “many” patients had come from Mexico.
“They are coming in because their resources over there are also limited so they are coming in to our area seeking medical attention and by law we have to provide it,” Dr. Lopez said. “The patients that cross the border say ‘we don’t have hospital space over there. The oxygen is gone. We don’t have medications, so we cross the border.’”
And just like in California, some local Texas media report airlifts of patients to empty beds as far north as Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle and ground transports to Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and small rural hospitals throughout the state, where they too are perceived as reflecting regular community spread.
Dr. Lopez and Commissioner Morgan insist that few are illegal aliens.
Maybe so, but three Border Patrol agents in Texas told me they were apprehending plenty of extremely ill non-Mexican illegal migrants, such as Central Americans, Haitians, Cubans, and Africans coming over very sick for medical care and, per policy, taking them to local hospitals. An agent last week told me of an illegal Mexican woman who climbed out of the river near Rio Grande City half dead from Covid. She later died at a local hospital.
Why Knowing Matters
America and its leaders need to know the extent to which Mexico coronavirus imports are filling U.S. hospitals so they can counter the problem with the correct cocktail of policies. After all, what good does it do only to restrict drinking in American bars and frolicking on beaches when significant numbers of those hospitalized got infected beyond the reach of such policies, in Mexico, under that country’s unique circumstances?
A first stop might be the Trump administration’s March 20 emergency border “closure.” The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal quoted hospital administrators begging federal authorities to require temperature-taking at border entry points and quarantines on anyone with virus symptoms. An American medical aid airlift or convoy expanding Mexico’s hospital capacity would accommodate these measures and relieve the pressure on American ones.
This border closure stands in bizarre relief to interstate roadblocks that regulate travel between U.S. states like Texas, where troopers at roadblocks screen vehicles from Louisiana under state self-quarantine measures. At the Mexican border, by contrast, there is no such medical screening, mandatory self-quarantines, or even checks on claimed essentiality.
The Uncomfortable Missing Data No One Seems to Want but Everyone Needs
The absence of hard data that would show the influx’s extent – such as the home towns of all Covid patients hospitalized in border regions and Border Patrol hospital transports – leaves border governors and the nation to assume that only spring-breakers and Memorial Day weekend families did all of the coronavirus spreading, while the emergency border closure continues unreformed.
Several members of Congress noticed this fateful gap recently and risked asking Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, to answer 13 questions designed to reveal the problem’s breadth. Reps. Chip Roy (R-Texas), Paul A. Gosar (R-Arizona) and Ted Budd (R-N.C.) aptly noted why that was important to public health.
The trio wrote that it was “imperative that DHS and CBP have the necessary tools, resources, and protocols in place to manage a potential outbreak or wave of migrants at the border in order to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 and prevent a contribution to increases in hospitalizations in southern states.”
Rep. Roy’s office said DHS is following up with information requests.