The slow action of the Donald Trump government in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has given room for improvisation, by civilians and government agencies alike.
While tens of thousands of citizens are hoarding toilet paper and guns alike — avoiding the only strategy that could really improve all this, which is social distancing — the Centers for Disease Control and other government agencies are trying to corroborate the President’s erratic statements to communicate a national strategy that is still conspicuous by its absence.
However, other levels of government have taken advantage of the situation to implement radical measures or simply ignore the recommendations of specialists and epidemiologists who warn that the worst is yet to come.
In one way or another, those most affected by the health crisis are the working class and immigrants, who in the absence of a social and economic system to support them have been left adrift and often even more at risk.
Raids as a Means of Contagion
If there is one agency that has turned a deaf ear to the recommendations of social distancing, it has been the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency which, taking advantage of the circumstance, has intensified its persecution measures, once again deploying massive raids at the national level.
According to the Los Angeles Times, states such as California have seen a considerable increase in raids on public spaces by ICE, despite the lockdown imposed on the vast majority of cities.
“With safety measures taken across the state, immigrant advocates have criticized ICE for its continued enforcement operations,” the Times added. “More than 45 organizations signed a letter this week calling on the Department of Homeland Security to suspend such actions.”
After the national outcry for the agency to suspend its activities, its officials sent a letter to Congress informing that it will “delay enforcement actions” and use “alternatives to detention.”
Meanwhile, according to New York Magazine, ICE must also assume its responsibility as a contaminant agent among the most exposed communities:
“This will be a crucial public-health measure if the government ever scales up testing enough to track the virus’s spread,” the magazine explained. “It also has the benefit of limiting unnecessary social interactions. ICE agents moving in and out of people’s homes and places of work, shuffling them in and out of courtrooms and detention facilities — all are ideal vectors for transporting pathogens.”
The Risk of a Tinderbox Scenario
The problem of raids and immigration detention is not only reduced to the stress caused in the communities and the deterrence that this implies for many families to dare to seek medical help in case of contamination, but also to the sanitary conditions of those in detention centers.
As medical specialists from the Department of Homeland Security explained to the U.S. Congress in a letter: there’s an “imminent risk to the health and safety of immigrant detainees and to the general public if the novel coronavirus spreads in ICE detention,” explained CNN.
“As local hospital systems become overwhelmed by the patient flow from detention center outbreaks, precious health resources will be less available for people in the community,” the letter says. “To be more explicit, a detention center with a rapid outbreak could result in multiple detainees — five, ten or more — being sent to the local community hospital where there may only be six or eight ventilators over a very short period.”
“As they fill up and overwhelm the ventilator resources, those ventilators are unavailable when the infection inevitably is carried by staff to the community and are also unavailable for all the usual critical illnesses (heart attacks, trauma, etc.).”
Contradictory Messages and Lack of Financial Support
Days before the announcement of the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump Administration implemented the Public Charge Rule, which states that any immigrant wishing to obtain permanent residence in the country must prove that he or she is not a “financial charge” to the country and therefore must not have used federal benefits such as Medicare, food stamp,s or similar subsidies.
At a time when 20 percent of the country is already unemployed due to the COVID-19 crisis, the 11 million undocumented immigrants are at risk of being paralyzed and homeless because of the government’s contradictory messages and lack of clear communication about them.
“Their jobs are disappearing, they often have no company-sponsored health insurance to rely on, and there won’t be any $1,000 checks coming from Washington, D.C., for them.” USA Today explained. “Immigration advocates say they’re hoping ICE officials start showing some sympathy in the weeks to come, as they apparently did when it announced Wednesday that it would scale back arrests. But given their history under the Trump administration, they’re not holding their breath.”