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

Separating Families of Illegal Immigrants: A Mental Health Crisis

I, like many of you, have heard about the separation of children from their families at the United States-Mexico border. I’ve seen the images of children of children fenced in and treated cruelly.

Activists have made a big deal about the inhumanity of this policy from an immigration perspective, and rightfully so. However, I want to use this week’s post to discuss the cruelty of this policy from a mental health perspective, because the mental health implications of these actions are not getting the attention they deserve.

Numerous studies and experts have shown that the family turmoil caused by this separation has a negative affect on the mental health of everyone in the family. Here are a few studies and experts worth noting:

  1. A recent study published by the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry noted that, “Separation from a family member was significantly related to all three measures of mental health.” This article believes that the mental health consequences of this separation need to be addressed.
  2. Dr. Colleen Kraft, the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said about her tour of one of the immigration detention centers that, “Normally toddlers are rambunctious and running around. We had one child just screaming and crying, and the others were really silent. And this is not normal activity or brain development with these children.” She also expressed about child detention that, “It disrupts their brain architecture and keeps them from developing language and social, emotional bonds, and gross motor skills, and the development that they could possibly have.” As a result, Dr. Kraft describes these actions as “government-sanctioned child abuse.”[1]
  3. The American Psychological Association has cited a “mental health crisis” that has been caused by the current policy on family separation.[2]

But how can the Untied States address the mental health impacts of this policy?

Based on studies that exist on the topic of family separation and mental health, a good start is to end the current policy on this family separation. However, curtailing this policy is just that: a start.

What’s also needed is a comprehensive mental health care plan for families who have been affected by the separation of families and the detainments of children. This is needed because the erasure of this cruel policy will not remove the negative mental health impacts experienced by those who were victimized by said policy. However, comprehensive mental health care for those affected by the policy can hopefully start to address the scars that were created.

Obviously, this idea may be controversial because it proposes the idea of helping illegal immigrant families. However, if the United States were to truly care for the mental health of these separated families, such a measure is sorely needed. Doing otherwise would be unjust.

Note: I wrote this post hours before I published it. I therefore apologize in advance for any mistakes I made here.


[1] http://thehill.com/latino/392790-american-academy-of-pediatrics-president-trumps-family-separation-policy-is-child

[2] http://fortune.com/2018/06/15/doctors-trump-border-separation-policy-causing-mental-health-crisis-families/