Trump bars immigrants but invites in COVID-19

July 1, 2020

From the July-August 2020 issue of News & Letters

As COVID-19 spread its way across the U.S., polling firms like Bipartisan Policy Center asked people what types of responses the government should prioritize. Curbing immigration consistently ranked at the bottom, even among Republicans, but you wouldn’t know it by listening to Donald Trump.

After taking little or no action before or during the pandemic to secure PPE, ventilators, and testing kits, Trump exerted effort to close the border with Mexico. Racist White House advisor Stephen Miller has tried for years to pinpoint diseases like mumps and the common cold as a public health rationale to cut immigration.


Trump’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a directive to border agents on March 20: immediately deport immigrants without documents, no hearing required. On April 21, Trump extended the summary removals to all immigrants. Refugees in the border region of northern Mexico, already waiting in line for months due to a per diem limit on admission which was already in place, are now stranded indefinitely.

The Associated Press reported that a 13-year-old girl from El Salvador arrived in April to claim asylum. Her mother, a former police officer, resides legally in the U.S., but the girl was deported and is presumably a target of the same street gangs who threatened her mother.

A similar fate awaited a teenage boy from Honduras, until a federal judge temporarily blocked the policy as applied to child asylum seekers, who have the right to a hearing under a 2008 law to prevent child trafficking. The judge’s injunction, however, only applies to the individual case while litigation is pending.

If Trump’s policy is eventually ruled unconstitutional by the District Court, he will likely make an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court, which has been quick to grant such appeals on 5-4 decisions. In a January dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor denounced how “claiming one emergency after another, the Government has recently sought stays in an unprecedented number of cases.”


At the time of her writing, the court was granting a hearing in the 24th “emergency” in three years! It ultimately decided in a 5-4 ruling to allow Medicaid and food stamps to be added to the definition of “public charge” in a rule denying immigration rights to beneficiaries of some government programs.

The addition of Medicaid means even documented immigrants who are eligible for healthcare under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) might put themselves in jeopardy if the system puts them into expanded Medicaid. Furthermore, a low-income individual who gets placed into Medicaid by ACA regulations is usually prohibited from shopping for subsidized plans through the ACA marketplace.

Last December, when Latino USA spoke to Maria, a green card holder in line at a privately-funded free clinic in Chicago, she said: “I could apply for Obamacare [ACA], but instead I want to wait five years when I’ll be a citizen.” She was afraid of the “public charge” rule jeopardizing her plans of citizenship.[1]


This de facto stripping away of healthcare is certain to have dire consequences with COVID-19 a constant risk. The $1,200 pandemic checks did not go out to taxpayers without a social security number.

Citizens who are married and filed jointly with a partner who has no Social Security number also receive no money. Sometimes, DACA recipients (“dreamers”) received the only pandemic check that is supposed to sustain them, their parents and siblings.

Private donors are helping fill this financial gap in some places, building solidarity funds through the National Day Laborer Organizing Network in Los Angeles or the Resurrection Project in Chicago. Alix Webb, an organizer in Philadelphia with Asian Americans United, told the Philadelphia Inquirer: “In early March, we began seeing hundreds of families in our communities lose business, places of employment, and having to make hard choices to work in unsafe conditions…This fund is to offer direct financial support — for food, rent, supplies, for safety.”

—Buddy Bell

[1] Although the current “public charge” rule doesn’t apply to green card holders, there is no telling how much further any future executive orders will go, and there is a possibility of losing status for other reasons and having to reapply.

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