There are so many issues to be focused on right now in the current pandemic. Obviously the most pressing issues are the ones regarding how to stop the spread of the virus as well as finding treatments that will help to mitigate some of the worst effects of it. While we are working for these immediate goals, we must be very careful that we also are at least considering what our actions mean for other issues. There are dangers of authoritarianism, the loss of civil liberties, and the need to help those affected by the economic shut down. However, one issue that is getting far too little attention is how this crisis will be used to promote anti-immigrant actions.
First, we need to be especially careful that this complete closure of the borders is a temporary action in the most desperate period of the virus and does not become the norm if issues with the virus continue months and years from now in a more endemic manner. We should have a high bar for stopping the movement of people. Closing borders may be necessary for a short time, but it overall is antithetical to the ideals of Western democracy.
The Trump administration has also barred asylum seekers and refugees during this time and has even started sending unaccompanied minor children back to their home countries. This will also affect guest workers which could cause major issues with food production. There has largely been silence from the left who would have usually risen up against such actions. In fact, there seems to be a lot more anger with Trump calling the virus the China virus than these actual policies that could mean hardship and even death for people in very volatile situations. If history is any clue, restrictions on immigrants, particularly asylum seekers and refugees, will be extended far beyond the immediate crisis. We must be vigilant to assure that this does not occur.
We also must ensure that these desperate times do not allow xenophobic attitudes to spread. Though the incidents have been limited, there is evidence of anti-Asian discrimination because of the virus. I think the larger issue will be the anti-immigrant sentiment and policies that will be used against undocumented immigrants as the economic crisis escalates. There was already so much anti-immigrant hostility while the economy was doing well over the last several years. This economic crisis will simply exacerbate those dangerous movements as people create scapegoats for the economic crisis.
The children at our border who have fled from unfathomable situations face far more danger in their day to day lives than most of us face from the coronavirus. While we are dealing with this difficult crisis, we must not forget them. Let’s pray that the restrictions that have been placed upon us during this difficult time make us a little more empathetic to those who face much harsher restrictions every single day due to the country and situation they were born into. Let’s make sure that this crisis makes us more aware of those whose everyday life is a crisis and not allow it to be an excuse to ignore their cries, or worse yet, turn against them.
Will McCorkle is a South Carolina educator and immigration advocate.