Earlier this week, President Trump announced that he would halt immigration to the U.S. for two months on the grounds that he wants to prioritize Americans’ access to jobs in the wake of massive job losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to safeguard against foreigners who may carry the virus into the country.
New bans on immigration will not contain the coronavirus. As Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said of the proposed ban during his April 21 press briefing, “it doesn’t make any sense and it doesn’t make us any safer.” Baker also pointed out that in Massachusetts, the outbreak can be traced back to two Biogen employees who attended the biotech company’s Feb. 26 conference in Boston.
Nor will the proposed ban have a tangible effect on immigration, since immigration to the U.S. was already effectively shut down because of the virus. On March 20, the U.S. State Department suspended routine visa services at U.S. embassies and consulates around the globe and prohibited non-essential travel across the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico. Refugee resettlement work, citizen ceremonies, and asylum hearings have also been halted in response to the pandemic.
What the new restriction might do, however, is undermine public health. Research shows that inflammatory political rhetoric about immigrants contributes to poorer health outcomes. Meanwhile, the current proposed ban would do even further damage to our economy and health care system. Legal scholars Jennifer Chacón and Erwin Chemerinsky recently noted that the current proposed ban, which would prohibit the entry of individuals who were previously granted immigrant visas to work in the U.S., are most often given to highly educated workers with specialized skills—including health care professionals or other highly specialized workers that can help mitigate the devastation of the coronavirus in this country.
“Keeping them out will not create jobs for displaced workers,” write Chacón and Chemerinsky. “In fact, immigrants have a long track record of creating jobs for American workers through innovative business creation. Banning immigration is so overbroad as to be clearly unreasonable, and it is far more likely to kill jobs than to create them.”
Since the COVID-19 crisis began, the president’s rhetoric has contributed to a rise in hate crimes targeting Asian-Americans (see our previous post, “Racism, Bias, and COVID-19” for more on this phenomenon). This latest proposal will affect immigrants who already live in our communities and fill many of the essential jobs in health care, public safety, sanitation services, food production and delivery, and childcare that are keeping us safer throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of this writing, nearly 46,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S. Until we have a vaccine for the coronavirus, our best tools for fighting the pandemic are physical distancing combined with more testing, robust systems of contact tracing, and better treatment options.
Fenway Health is committed to enhancing the well-being of the LGBTQIA+ community and all people in our neighborhoods and beyond through access to the highest quality health care, education, research and advocacy. We do this, in part, by lowering barriers to care for all people. Therefore, we do not ask current or prospective patients and clients about their immigration status. This policy will not change.