Before the pandemic, migrants were already experiencing an extremely precarious human rights situation in apprehension, detention and deportation.
Before covid-19, the Trump administration was exacerbating an already inhumane, racist and violent immigration system. This included policies such as family separation (that separated thousands of babies and children from their parents), Migrant Protection Protocols (also known as “Remain in Mexico”, which has denied asylum seekers to pursue their case in the US and force migrants to seek refuge in Mexico while they await their court hearings), the Third Safe Country Agreements (that have see...
Before covid-19, the Trump administration was exacerbating an already inhumane, racist and violent immigration system. This included policies such as family separation (that separated thousands of babies and children from their parents), Migrant Protection Protocols (also known as “Remain in Mexico”, which has denied asylum seekers to pursue their case in the US and force migrants to seek refuge in Mexico while they await their court hearings), the Third Safe Country Agreements (that have seen the deportation of migrants to Guatemala), building and extending a border wall, and attacking Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
As we have seen in this series (1, 2 and 3), the human rights situation has worsened during the pandemic, with the further dismantling of the few protections that migrants had. The US has shifted blame for the pandemic on migrants, contributing to additional restrictive policies. Deportations have also exported covid-19 to Guatemala and elsewhere, with little regard for the health of migrants and receiving countries. As we have seen in this series, child migrants have been negatively affected.
The US deportation machine is efficient in dehumanizing and stripping away migrant rights, whether they are the right to asylum, basic human rights in detention centers or the right to health by being provided personal protective equipment on deportation flights. Acting Commissioner of CBP, Mark Morgan, stated in a tweet:
“Criminal organizations [...] provide false promises to illegal aliens, have no concern for their safety or the safety of the American people. The aliens are hidden in overcrowded & unsanitary stash houses and tractor-trailers that often reach triple digit temperatures. Perfect incubators for COVID-19. There is no social distancing. They often travel long distances traversing COVID ‘hotspots.’ Even though some of them know or highly suspect they have COVID, they still come—exposing everyone they come in contact with during their journey.”
Morgan’s view of “illegal aliens” as careless of public health and as spreaders of the virus symbolizes the sheer hypocrisy and the morally bankrupt position of the US government. As we have seen in this series, the US has worsened the pandemic. The grim realities that Guatemalan and other migrants face at the US-Mexico border during apprehension, detention and deportation are troublesome.
Given the gross human rights violations committed by Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, there are strong calls for these agencies to be abolished. The covid-19 pandemic has served to further visualize how US immigration policies and institutions contribute to the deaths of migrants. The US is weaponizing covid-19 to threaten migrant lives and utilizing it within their violent deterrence policies based on a politics of terror, fear and necroviolence. Detention centers are prisons and sites of violence and death, and it is necessary to eliminate them. It is necessary to free all migrants. No one is illegal. Only through abolishing them can we rid ourselves of institutions that deny migrants of their humanity and health.
It is important not to criminalize migrants by blaming them for the spread of covid. Unfortunately, the xenophobia, the racism and the white supremacy that dominate the US government have meant death. These are not metaphors, but a reality. These deaths include the more than 234,000 people who have died from covid in the US, the deaths of Guatemalans like Santiago Baten-Oxlaj and the deaths caused by the immigration system. The Guatemalan government is also guilty of these deaths due to the conditions it has created, which force people to migrate, and because of its corruption and negligence, which have left the Guatemalan people without the necessary resources to defend themselves against the pandemic.
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