By Robert Reich
As the highly contagious Delta variant surges, public health officials are trying to keep the focus on the urgent need for more vaccinations.
But with increasing vehemence, Trump Republicans are falling back on their old game of deflecting attention by blaming immigrants crossing the southern border.
Last week, Trump issued a characteristic charge: “ICYMI: “Thousands of COVID-positive migrants passing through Texas border city,” linking a New York Post article claiming that “nearly 7,000 immigrants who tested positive for COVID-19 have passed through a Texas city that has become the epicenter of the illegal immigration surge.”
You may recall Trump employing this racist-nationalist theme before. For years he fixed his ire on Mexicans and Central Americans from “shitholes,” as he has so delicately put it. He began his 2016 campaign by charging that “criminals, drug dealers and rapists” were surging across America’s southern border, and then spent much of the subsequent four years trying to erect a fence to keep them out.
Trump acolytes are adopting the same demagoguery for the Delta surge. As hospitalizations in Florida soared past 12,000 this week, exceeding a record already shattered last weekend, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis accused President Biden of facilitating the virus by not reducing immigration through the southern border.
“Why don’t you do your job?” DeSantis snapped after Biden suggested DeSantis stop opposing masks. “Why don’t you get this border secure? And until you do that, I don’t want to hear a blip about Covid from you, thank you.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has also been quick to blame the Delta surge on immigrants crossing into Texas from Mexico, while barring Texas municipalities from mandating masks or inoculations.
On July 28 Abbott issued an order allowing state troopers to stop vehicles suspected of carrying illegal immigrants on the grounds they might be spreading COVID. (The order was subsequently blocked by a federal judge.) Days later, Abbott issued the order prohibiting Texas counties, cities, or universities from mandating masks or inoculations.
The Trumpist media is quickly falling in line behind this nativist rubbish. In the last week, Fox News’ Sean Hannity has asserted the “biggest super-spreader” is immigrants streaming over the southern border rather than the lack of vaccinations.
The National Review claims “Biden’s border crisis merges with his Covid crisis” and asserts that “the federal government is successfully terrifying people about COVID while it is shrugging at the thousands of infectious illegal aliens who are coming into the country and spreading the virus.” A headline in the Fort Worth Star Telegram demands we “Stop pretending that crush of immigrants at Texas border isn’t driving COVID cases.”
Hold it. Can we please look at the actual data?
The Delta variant was first detected in India in December, and then moved directly to the United States in March and April according to the CDC.
GISAID, a nonprofit organization that tracks the genetic sequencing of viruses, has shown that each of the four variants now circulating in the United States arrived here before spreading to Mexico and Central America. International travel rather than immigration over the southern border brought the viruses to America.
Haven’t we had enough demagoguery and deflection? Haven’t Trump and his ilk done enough damage already?