The (COVID) Crisis at the United States–Mexico Border

The surge of migrants coming into the United States has become a game of political maneuvering from both Democrats and Republicans—Democrats blame the Trump administration for the current situation, and Republicans blame the Biden administration for being too “soft” on certain immigration matters.

I’m not even going to begin to sort out where the truth lies on the border situation as a whole. However, what is clear is that there is a crisis when it comes to COIVID at the border.

Certain elements of this crisis are the results of issues that go well beyond the United States-Mexico border. The bulk of the migrants are coming from countries in Central America—namely, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador—that had extreme levels of violence and poverty to begin with, and then got slammed by two devastating hurricanes last fall.[1] To say that the situation appears to involve a lot of desperate people fleeing desperate situations might sound like an oversimplification of the current situation, but that is what this situation appears to be the result of—people, many of whom are desperate, fleeing from desperate situations.

That being said, some of the crisis could have been avoided with a more competent response from the Biden administration.

Among the “lowlights” of the administration’s handling of COVID among migrants include:

  • A March 18th article from POLITICO said that Biden administration officials admitted that there was no centralized system for tracking or responding to COVID cases among the migrants.[2]
  • A more recent NBC article said that migrant children are not tested for COVID until they transfer to a facility run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Department of Health and Human Services.[3]
  • The Biden administration outsourced testing and quarantining for many migrants. As a result of this outsourcing, it was “unclear how many have been tested for the virus, how many have tested positive and where infected people are being isolated along the border.”[4]

In reading these pieces, what became evident is that we’ve had two administrations violate the three basic principles involved in handling COVID, when it comes to migrants: testing, tracing, and isolating.

The fact that we are over one year into this pandemic, yet still do not have a competent way of dealing with COVID among migrants is, in my opinion, almost incomprehensibly careless and dangerous from a public health standpoint. Even if you were to believe the Biden administration’s argument that they inherited a mess (and based on the way Trump often handled the pandemic, I would not be the least bit surprised if Biden did inherit a mess), the administration’s response has been woefully short of following the science many on that team say they want to follow.

Because of the lack of a centralized, organized, and competent system for preventing as well as dealing with COVID among migrants, we get situations where COVID-positive migrant children are transferred from one facility to another[5] and where some COVID-positive migrants are still allowed to continue with their journey in spite of the positive test.[6] In other words, this failure by the current administration in grappling with COVID concerns at the border has resulted in preventable spread of the virus.

We can debate about the ultimate fates of the people at the border, and there will be debate about what should be the ultimate fates of people at the border; however, one area that should not be ignored during this public health crisis is the need for preventing COVID spread among migrants, and from migrants to others. Given that COVID is a global disease, the United States not doing all it can to prevent spread of the virus among migrants at the United States–Mexico border is a global headache, even if migrants are sent back to where they came from.


[1] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-55699540

[2] https://www.politico.com/news/2021/03/18/biden-administration-covid-southern-border-tracking-477073

[3] https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/cbp-not-testing-migrant-children-covid-border-stations-though-many-n1262059

[4] https://www.politico.com/news/2021/03/18/biden-administration-covid-southern-border-tracking-477073

[5] https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/cbp-not-testing-migrant-children-covid-border-stations-though-many-n1262059

[6] https://spectrumlocalnews.com/tx/san-antonio/news/2021/03/20/positive-covid-19-tests-continue-to-climb-among-migrants-in-brownsville

The Classism of the Trump Administration’s New Guidelines on Legal Immigrants

Last week, it was announced that the Trump administration would have a new regulation, called a “public charge rule,” where (from my understanding) someone applying for admission to the United States or someone who is looking for a change in residency status could be denied their request if they are deemed as likely to be a “public charge” in the future.[1] In other words, if the applicant is deemed to be likely to need some public benefit in the future, such as food stamps, then their application would be denied under the new guidelines.

Critics of the law have deemed this law anti-legal immigration, and those critics are right. Some critics have also deemed that this is anti-poor people, and they are right. However, there is one big word that must be used to describe this rule, a word I don’t seem to hear at all.

That word is classist. Yep, this policy is classist, and blatantly so.

Classism is “prejudice and discrimination based on class,”[2] according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Class is “a group sharing the same economic or social status.”[3] Therefore, a set of guidelines that punishes people for being poor is classist. A rule that keeps people from obtaining green cards or U.S. citizenship because they are deemed as poor enough that they are likely to need Medicaid in the future, which is what these guidelines do, is classist. A rule is classist when it is defended by a Trump administration official by saying, “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”[4] The rule is classist, and the defense of the rule is also classist.

And yet, it seems like few people, Republicans, Democrats, or people outside the political system, have actually gone as far as to say that it is classist or even mention the word classism. As I’m writing this, I did a Google Search for “classism Trump administration” within the last 24 hours (I wrote this about 24 hours after the rule was announced) and only found five pages of search results. It’s as if classism itself is not really on the radars of that many people.

Given the fact that the Trump administration’s recent action, it’s time to put classism on the radar, learn about it, and call it out for what it is. Republican and Democratic leaders may be hesitant to call out classism, let alone call it out for what it is, but that should not keep us from being frank about classism and classist policies.


[1] You can find the original source of the rule here: https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2019-17142.pdf. Alternatively, if you just want to read a summary of the rule, you can read the BBC’s summary here: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-49323610

[2] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/classism

[3] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/class

[4] https://www.npr.org/2019/08/13/750726795/immigration-chief-give-me-your-tired-your-poor-who-can-stand-on-their-own-2-feet

On the Controversial Secret Border Patrol Facebook Group

As is sometimes the case when I take a break from posts on the week of the 4th of July, some big news broke.

This time, one big piece of news that broke was on the topic of illegal immigration. Namely, the news site ProPublica broke a story about a secret U.S. Border Patrol Facebook group, titled “I’m 10-15”,[1] which joked about migrant deaths and made blatantly sexist and racist comments about members of Congress visiting a troubled Border Patrol facility.[2]

The revelations brought forth by ProPublica, important as they were, would’ve been disturbing enough if this consisted of a few dozen members or a few hundred. However, this group, which includes both current and retired U.S. Border Patrol officials, is a group of about 9,500 people. To put this in perspective, there were about 19,400 Border Patrol agents as of 2017,[3] so the number of people in the group is roughly half the number of total Border Patrol agents.

What this means is that this is not just a few bad apples causing trouble. The entire culture with the United States Border Patrol is rotten, from top to bottom.

So when I hear politicians or people in general say that we should respond to this by “firing those involved with this,” it just comes across as a shallow response. It comes across as a shallow response because it then sounds like everything will get better when we just “get rid of the bad apples.” Such a response, while well-intended, seems to be blind to the injustice that this is about more than bad people—it’s about an entire governmental agency that is broken at many levels. Yes, there is the brokenness of the hate exhibited by the current and former agency employees on the Facebook group. But there is also the brokenness of the inhumane practices that exist in the Border Patrol facilities, the brokenness of the leadership that allows these practices, and the brokenness of the hiring practices that led to such prejudiced people being on the United States Border Patrol in the first place, to name a few. The problems at the Border Patrol will need a fix much deeper than simply firing some people.

There instead needs to be a complete change in the culture of the Border Patrol, from top to bottom. Such an overhaul is needed because otherwise, all one would do by firing people is hiring new agents who would in turn find themselves entrenched in a broken agency. Yes, the people on the Border Patrol need to show more sensitivity and less prejudice, but the Border Patrol itself, regardless of the people within it, also needs significant changes.


[1] Apparently, “10-15” is Border Patrol code for “aliens in custody.”

[2] You can find the story through this link, but read at your own risk. I found what was talked about here to be extremely disturbing and upsetting: https://www.propublica.org/article/secret-border-patrol-facebook-group-agents-joke-about-migrant-deaths-post-sexist-memes#

[3] https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2019/feb/01/adam-smith/has-number-border-patrol-agents-quadrupled-2005/

Language and Sense of Belonging

One time, I was at a deli in Queens, New York. At that, I was at a deli where nearly all of the customers (me being the anomaly) speak Russian. Amid some confusion with another customer over who was at the front of the line to get served, I was told the following by the customer, while that person attempted (unsuccessfully) to skip me on line:
“You are in Russian grocery store. You must speak Russian.”

When I was told this by another customer, I felt awkward. I felt like I didn’t belong in there.

People may read this story and feel sorry for me. But please don’t feel sorry for me. Here’s why: what I experienced for ten seconds at a deli is what millions of people in America experience on a daily basis.

That mindset is in so many places. There are people in this United States, particularly on the far right, who want to deport immigrants who don’t learn English. Across the pond, in the United Kingdom, one of their recent prime ministers used threatening language about people in his country who were unable to speak English. A man at a Spanish restaurant in New York threatened to call ICE on people who were speaking Spanish.[1] The attitude that I experienced in that Russian deli is shockingly widespread when it comes to scenarios when we encounter people who don’t speak “our language.”

And if I felt awkward for being told that I didn’t belong in a Russian deli I could easily leave, imagine how much worse it must feel to be told that you don’t belong in the United States (or another country you’ve settled in), that you must leave or be deported because you don’t speak the “native language.” It would be an understatement to say that it must feel awkward, just as I felt awkward in that deli. No, it must hurt really, really badly.

So if we encounter someone who doesn’t speak “our language,” please try to understand that the person’s sense of belonging is already being challenged. We don’t need to (and we shouldn’t) challenge someone’s sense of belonging even further by saying that they’re not welcome simply because they don’t speak the language we speak. To the contrary, everyone, regardless of the language each person speaks, is part of our human family.


[1] I made a decision to not include links to any of these stories and mindsets because they do not deserve more of a platform than they are already getting.

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How Immigration Policy Hurts Anti–Human Trafficking Efforts

“We need to be tough on crime. We need to crack down on illegal immigration.”

Such is the rallying cry of President Donald Trump and many Republicans in particular. That rallying cry is part of why the government is shut down over the issue of a wall, as of the time of my writing this.

But it’s not just a Trump, Republican, or conservative thing to be tough on immigration. I say that because Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, saw more people deported in his eight years than every 20th century President of the United States combined. And through it all, many Democrats seemed not to care, pay attention, and/or say anything. This tough approach to illegal immigration includes people who like to view themselves as “bleeding-heart liberals.”

The consequences of this tough approach are disastrous for efforts to combat human trafficking.

One example of tough immigration policy hurting anti–human trafficking efforts is with President Trump’s policy with people who get denied a “T visa.” A T visa is a visa that allows victims of human trafficking, regardless of immigration status, to stay in the United States, to work, and to access benefits; people can do all of this while working with law enforcement on their human trafficking cases. People who have been denied T visas in the past were generally still allowed to stay in the United States without any problem. However, under this administration, there is now a new set of guidelines that endangers trafficked individuals: “But under the new guidelines, denial of a T visa will trigger an automatic summons for a hearing before an immigration judge — known as a ‘notice to appear.’ Legal experts say such a notice effectively marks the start of the deportation process.” To make matters worse, it has simultaneously been made more difficult than before for victims of human trafficking to receive T visas.[1] The consequence of such a tough approach to trafficked individuals who are undocumented is disastrous, according to many experts, because it creates a reluctance for trafficked victims to come forward. This reluctance to come forward, which is the result of tough immigration policy such as this, only helps traffickers and hurts the trafficked.

The T visa debacle, however, is only part of an anti-migrant stance of Presidents Trump and Obama that has hurt efforts to combat human trafficking. Denise Brennan, professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., said that, “The dirty little secret about trafficking in this environment of 2.5 million deportations under President Obama and now President Trump’s obvious anti-migrant stance is there has not been a political will to really find people. I just don’t think we’ve been looking for trafficked people.”[2] The Global Slavery Index, which is a global study of modern-day slavery conditions by country, likewise gave a stern rebuke of modern American immigration policy: “A survey of service providers conducted by Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST), Freedom Network USA, and Polaris in 2017 found that new immigration enforcement policies and practices are increasing their clients’ vulnerability to human trafficking.”[3] Talk that is tough on migrants and supportive of walls may score political points, but it certainly does not seem to help any efforts on human trafficking. Once again, that is of benefit to traffickers and of hurt to the trafficked.

Granted, not all victims of human trafficking in the United States are illegal immigrants. As a result, issues with combatting human trafficking go well beyond confronting immigration issues. Nevertheless, one who is passionate about human trafficking issues would want to do everything possible on all fronts to reduce human trafficking, and that includes dealing with immigration policies that hurt the nation’s efforts in addressing human trafficking.

It may be politically popular at times to be tough on illegal immigration, and politically unpopular to relax certain stances on illegal immigration and deportations. However, sometimes the best thing to do is the unpopular thing to do. In this case, maybe the best thing to do is to change policies on immigration enforcement so that the United States does not create an even greater problem with trafficking.


[1] https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/07/09/new-us-policy-raises-risk-of-deportation-for-immigrant-victims-of-trafficking-immigration-visa/

[2] https://www.reuters.com/article/trafficking-conference-immigration-idUSL1N1HS1T2

[3] https://www.globalslaveryindex.org/2018/findings/country-studies/united-states/