Like many Americans, I was thrilled to go on vacation this summer after a year marred by COVID restrictions. My family used to live overseas, so we took our kids to the EU to visit friends. It seemed like much-need therapy after a school year of isolation and mostly online learning.
But COVID still complicated our travel plans. Even though all three of my kids over age 12 were fully vaccinated, as were my husband and I, we needed negative COVID tests to get through each airport. Even when returning to the United States, we needed to be tested again to be allowed back into our country.
I understand the tremendous concern about the potential for someone to bring new strains of COVID into the United States, infecting our communities, and potentially leading to a resurgence and another shutdown. I know it’s a privilege to travel, especially overseas. So we followed the rules and paid the extra bills for all of this testing.
What I don’t understand, however, is why these requirements, which are imposed on those of us who travel by air, aren’t similarly enforced on those coming over land.
But that’s the border policy under the Biden Administration. There is one set of rules for those who travel by air and a different, less restrictive policy for those who entering through our Southern border. The difference isn’t a result of lax enforcement at an overwhelmed border. It’s an official policy.
Today, America faces the highest level of attempted border crossing in 21 years. In July alone, more than 212,000 immigrants attempted to cross our southern border. Immigration is always a difficult issue, implicating humanitarian, economic, and national security concerns. But today, it is also a very serious public health issue.
Travelers entering a land border, including migrants, are not required to have a COVID test and frequently they aren’t even tested for COVID before entering and are traveling to destinations across the country. A representative of National Border Patrol Council, recently 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 approach simply makes no sense and 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.
Meanwhile, our COVID numbers are once again ticking up. The total number of reported cases today is 64% higher than it was last week, according to the CDC. The good news is that hospitalization rates aren’t climbing as quickly, but there is still understandable concern.
Americans aren’t just worried about the increased risk of catching COVID. They are also worried about how policymakers will react and the potential that restrictions will be reimposed on our country. I just learned that my five children will all have to wear masks all day every day in their local public schools. As masking requirements are reinstated, businesses across the country have to also be wondering if they are once again going to face capacity limits or shutdowns.
This isn’t fair. Public health officials who tell us that we need to sacrifice our freedoms to keep our countrymen safe should at least also encourage government officials in charge of our borders to take this threat seriously too.
This has nothing to do with the larger immigration or COVID policy debates. You can be for or against greater immigration and for or against more or less COVID restrictions, but still recognize that we need a rational border policy that treats everyone equally. There is no justification for discriminating based on how people enter our country. If we need restrictions to prevent COVID from entering through our airports then we logically need them at our border crossings too. Policymakers keep lecturing Americans about the need to take COVID precautions seriously and sensibly, but they should start by leading by example.