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

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/