Kimberly Marselas

Over the last several weeks, ugly rhetoric about migrants causing the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. has become hard to escape, so much so that it followed me on vacation with the family.

Probably like many of those sharing the storyline in grocery stores and in various chat board comment sections, my in-laws watch an awful lot of Fox News. Let me confirm that immigration policy is a really dicey topic to broach during a nine-hour drive home with mixed company.

In any case, I was glad to see NPR tackle this issue head-on Monday.

After playing a series of sound bites from Republican politicians, Alisa Chang of “All Things Considered” turned to doctors who work on the Southern border for a reality check.

“This is not a border issue. It is not a migrant issue,” said Dr. Michele Heisler with Physicians for Human Rights. She told NPR the places in the U.S. with the highest positivity rates are not near the border nor in the regions where many migrants are heading after being processed.

But Heisler says leaders of places that have long-discounted the threat of COVID-19 are now scapegoating immigrants as cases explode with the delta variant’s ascent.

“They’re just trying to divert attention from the actual measures that we need to take: You know, asking people to wear masks and socially distance and take care of themselves and their loved ones,” Heisler said. “And it’s baffling to me that instead of trying to protect lives, they’re trying to create a scapegoat.”

Of course, migrants are crossing the southern border in unusually high numbers, with the Biden administration facing some valid criticism for its handling of the largest wave of migrants in recent history.

Dr. Ivan Melendez in Hidalgo County, TX, agreed there is a risk of unvaccinated migrants spreading the COVID-19 once they’re in the U.S. But — and this is a big caveat — he said they pose no more of an exposure risk than any other unvaccinated person. Melendez has found that positivity rates among just-arrived migrants are “almost exactly” the same as positivity rates in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.

(It will be interesting to see how migrants respond to a reported plan by the Department of Homeland Security to start offering COVID-19 shots while individuals are awaiting processing. Many Mexican citizens have already been day-tripping to highly-vaccinated El Paso, seeking shots they can’t get easily at home.)

If diseases recognized borders, we might never have been in this mess. From the beginning of the pandemic, there have been those who would blame a single nation or its people and throw hate their way for what has unfolded since late 2019. But anger and false narratives will get us nowhere.

Knowing how many immigrants care for America’s seniors, often toiling away at low-paying jobs in nursing homes and other healthcare settings, it seems especially sad that any commenter would try to use our pages to conflate immigration with contagion.

So whether they’re in their home nations or trying to make their home in the U.S., let’s stop blaming immigrants for our pandemic problems. If COVID has shown us nothing else, it is that we are irrevocably connected to one another, in sickness and in health.

Kimberly Marselas is senior editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.