The Wall That Didn’t Stop the Coronavirus

Three weeks ago, with much of the United States already gearing up to limit the spread of the coronavirus, the Trump administration’s chief immigration judge sent out a stern order to immigration courts nationwide to take down all public health posters, printed in English and Spanish, on how to deal with the pandemic. “Per our leadership,” the order said, immigration judges did not have the authority to post fliers. “If you see one (attached), please remove it.”

Soon after the order was revealed by The Miami Herald, the Department of Justice, which oversees the immigration courts, reversed course and told the paper that “the signs shouldn’t have been removed.”

A bureaucratic blunder? More like a case in point of how the administration’s obsession with immigrants, undocumented, legal or aspiring, has infected its efforts to control the spread of a pandemic, exacerbating the crisis.

Tough times call for tough measures, to be sure, and the administration’s anticipated order to turn back all asylum seekers and other foreigners trying to cross the southwestern border illegally makes sense in the context of measures already taken to severely restrict movement across other American borders, land and sea.

The immigration system along the southern border is overtaxed, and detention centers across the United States are already bursting with nearly 40,000 people, at enormous risk of contagion. The coronavirus doesn’t discriminate between carriers who are held behind bars and those whose job it is to guard them. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has continued to make arrests and has shown no intention of releasing nonviolent detainees, though judges in some states have ordered some released out of health concerns.

Rounding up undocumented immigrants and shutting down the border is something President Trump has yearned to do since long before the coronavirus began its fateful spread. And his animosity toward undocumented immigrants is affecting the efforts to contain the coronavirus far beyond the border.

By The Editorial Board for THE NEW YORK TIMES
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