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For Immigrants, Coronavirus is a Medical Concern and a Political Problem

— March 22, 2020

The Trump administration’s numerous anti-immigrant endeavors make many migrants afraid to seek medical treatment.

Immigrants living in the United States—legal and undocumented alike—are reportedly afraid to seek medical treatment as coronavirus spreads across the country.

The New York Times reports that migrants’ fear has been palpable for months.

Luz Gallegos, director of the TODEC Legal Center, held a meeting with farmworkers in California’s Coachella Valley. The meeting, says the Times, took place in January—two months before coronavirus was anything close to a priority for the Trump administration. But even then, Gallegos—who’d come to talk about general immigration issues—said she and her colleagues were “peppered” with questions about the disease.

Since then—and in the past several days alone—local health authorities have announced multiple coronavirus-related deaths in Southern California, at least two of which were in the Coachella Valley.

“There’s a new layer of fear in the immigrant community right now[,] created by COVID-19,” Gallegos told the Times. “We believe that members will be afraid to seek the care they need.”

Image via U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. U.S. government work/public domain.

Gallegos, says The New York Times, fielded a variety of health-related questions. They ranged from concerns over whether hospitalization could jeopardize an individual’s chance of obtaining legal permanent residency to whether seeking treatment could make undocumented migrants vulnerable to arrest and deportation.

And immigrants, took, are asking the same kinds of questions as natural-born Americans: how they’ll be able to sustain themselves in case they’re quarantined or otherwise forced to miss work.

The Times, in effect, suggests the Trump administration is playing an integral, insidious role in keeping immigrants away from healthcare.

In recent months, the White House has—among other things—enacted a revised “public charge” rule, which penalizes migrants who use any variety of public benefits. Under the rule’s latest rendition, migrants who are deemed a burden to the American taxpayer can be denied visas, visa renewals or permanent legal residency. While Trump backed down from old promises and exempted several health-related programs from the rule’s purview, many immigrants remain fearful of exposing themselves to close bureaucratic scrutiny, even if they’re in the country legally.

Tanya Broder, an attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, says that the administration’s aggressively anti-immigrant agenda is endangering the public health.

“The fear that this administration has fueled in immigrant communities is thwarting efforts to protect the public health of everybody,” Broder said in an interview with the NYT.

Other experts told the Times that trust is integral to tracking and containing epidemics, like the one posed by novel coronavirus. Yet the Trump White House, alongside its lackadaisical initial response to COVID-19, is trying to use the outbreak to forward a very political agenda. Even as public health agencies—like the New York City Board of Correction—have recommended that low-risk detainees be released for fear of stoking an outbreak behind bars, the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has yet to relent. And as deportations continue, there’s a real risk that the United States could be sending coronavirus-affected detainees to comparatively impoverished countries less equipped to contend with COVID.


ICE said it won’t deport people for seeking medical care. Immigrants won’t believe them.

‘We’re Petrified’: Immigrants Afraid to Seek Medical Care for Coronavirus

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