Excluding migrants from COVID-19 testing, treatment bad for public health, advocates say

Coronavirus

Some also accuse president Trump of using coronavirus press conferences to fan flames of "racism and xenophobia"

Asylum seekers wearing masks enter a door while attending a mandatory immigration court hearing on Monday, March 16, 2020, in El Paso, Texas. They are not suspected of carrying the Corona virus. Many immigration court hearings were cancelled Monday to curb spread of COVID-19. The migrants are required to live in nearby Ciudad, Juarez, Mexico, which had no confirmed cases as of Monday morning. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Advocates and a health expert are calling on Congress to extend free COVID-19 testing and treatment to undocumented immigrants and urging President Trump to stop using the virus “to fuel racism and xenophobia.”

“This is a disease that does not discriminate between rich or poor, black or white, red states or blue states but we have political leaders who unfortunately do,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that favors immigration reform.

President Trump talks about COVID-19 at a recent news conference in the White House. Immigration advocates accuse him of using the conferences as campaign rallies and fanning the flames of xenophobia. (AP photo)

In a teleconference today, Sharry and others said they’re disturbed by Trump allegedly turning into campaign rallies the daily news conferences to inform the American public about the progress being made to contain the coronavirus spread.

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice

“This is a time that calls for all of us to connect with our better angels. […] folks are feeling a lot of anxiety, people are worried about their family members, their friends livelihoods their ability to pay bills,” said U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas. “In a time of such crisis … we need leaders who will bring people together, provide comfort and leadership, solutions and compassion. And, true to form, the president can’t resist further dividing us.”

Escobar said Trump can’t resist the urge to use race-baiting such as calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” and emphasizing closing of the border.

“That language not only does nothing to bring us together, it does nothing to solve our great challenges, but what it does is provide fuel for people who have hate in their hearts and are xenophobic and racist,” the El Paso congresswoman said.

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas. (AP photo)

Michelle Heisler, medical director of Physicians for Human Rights, explained that putting aside views about unauthorized migration is paramount in times of a public health crisis.

She called for the release of asylum seekers from detention and into community-based alternatives and ending the “Remain in Mexico” policy that makes them wait across the border and then come back for their hearings.

Trump administration urged to free migrants as virus surges

From a medical perspective, the policies of detention and having them cross the border back and forth jeopardizes everyone’s health, she said.

“All decisions related to the COVID-19 pandemic have to be driven by science and public health expertise when the lives of millions of people in this county and elsewhere are at stake,” Heisler said.

Other advocates called for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop all enforcement activities during the crisis and to include undocumented immigrants in the cash-relief payments Congress proposes to make to American families.

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