Americans are being told, once again, that they must make sacrifices—wear masks, avoid crowds and limit their plans—because of a new virus variant, COVID’s delta strain, which came to us from overseas.
Of course, we should take COVID delta variant seriously, but there is one place where public health is not prioritized: at the U.S. southern border.
Today, we are at the highest level of attempted border crossings—roughly 210,000 in July alone—in 21 years. And the number illegal migrant apprehensions at the border so far this year is enough to create the 10th-largest city in the U.S., and more than the total populations of nine U.S. states or federal districts—Montana, Rhode Island, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska, Washington, D.C., Vermont, and Wyoming.
Since the beginning, the Biden administration’s policies have invited a public health crisis. They encouraged a surge of migrants from all over the world during a global pandemic to try to enter through our southern border regardless of all the health precautions taken with any other immigrant.
Immigration is always a challenging and divisive issue with national security, humanitarian and economic implications. But in 2021, first and foremost, immigration should have been viewed first as part of our public health policy. COVID-19 has caused more than 600,000 deaths, devastated our country economically and imposed tremendous burdens on our people, limiting our core freedoms. Americans were asked to stay home, limit interactions with others, forgo school and vacations, and even not to attend funerals, weddings and religious gatherings so as to prevent the spread of this virus.
When we are asking so much of our own citizens, why are we now allowing people from around the world to enter our country and potentially bring and spread new strains of COVID?
Yet that’s exactly what we are doing today at our Southern border. Bizarrely, the United States is only policing our borders for COVID for those who enter through our airports, not over land borders. At the airport, passengers, including American citizens, must have a negative COVID-19 test or proof of recovery to enter, even if they are fully vaccinated.
No such precautions exist for those entering over the land. Travelers entering a land border, including migrants, are not required to have a COVID test and frequently they aren’t even tested at all before entering and traveling to destinations across the country. A representative of National Border Patrol Council, Christ Cabrera, warned, “Not everyone we encounter we test, only those that exhibit some type of symptoms and not everybody has symptoms that has it … And we’re releasing people out of the door day in and day out with actual positive tests for COVID and more keep popping up.”
This makes no sense and it certainly isn’t grounded in science. People coming over land present just as much risk as those coming via air. In fact, if social distancing really helps prevent COVID spread, then migrants—many of whom have been forced to travel in large groups and in very close quarters—are more likely than air passengers to have been exposed to illnesses like COVID-19.
This isn’t an immigration issue. One can be sympathetic to those seeking to come to the United States and still be concerned about the public health implications of the failure to issue COVID tests, require proof of vaccination or enforce quarantine restrictions or social distancing at the southern border.
In the Rio Grande Valley sector, which is considered the epicenter of the ongoing border crisis, the COVID positivity rate has increased by 900% compared to the previous 14 months. Despite positive test results, border officials are releasing these migrants—as well as those who have been traveling with them but not yet showing symptoms—into communities without notifying local police or even requiring infected persons to wear masks. This puts all of us, including the migrants, at risk.
President Joe Biden’s policies are illogical and inconsistent. Members of Congress know this. Yet House Democrats blocked proposed legislation earlier this year that sought to implement mandatory COVID-19 testing at the border. The REACT Act would have required migrants to test negative for COVID-19 before being released into the country. Congress has also failed to take up the PAUSE Act, which requires Title 42—a provision giving border control more discretion to prevent those who attempt to cross the border illegally from entering the country—to remain in effect as long as COVID-19 mandates on the American people are in place.
Citizens, as well as those who hope to one day call the U.S. home, deserve safe border policies that respect the enormous sacrifices we have made to limit the spread of COVID-19 and its variants. On this, Dr. Fauci is right: We should take the delta variant seriously. So why isn’t the Biden administration?