I’ve been working on a paper about COVID-19 and how it disproportionately affects undocumented migrant and asylum seeker communities in the United States. It has been pretty difficult doing research for this project... although information about the coronavirus is coming out all the time, we don’t know how accurate it is. Most of the evidence I've gathered are from sources such as the AMA Journal for Ethics and Medecins Sans Frontieres, and I’ve been comparing their data to the trends in these same communities before COVID-19.
During this whole process, I’ve learned a lot. There are a lot of components to this paper, but my main conclusion is that the healthcare system as a whole is grievously inadequate, even for primary care and including emergency treatment. The United States healthcare system is absolutely not equipped to handle something on such a large scale— something as huge as a pandemic. Couple that with the fact that this healthcare system is inaccessible to asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants. We can truly see how COVID-19 has affected such communities disproportionately.
One of the main problems is a lack of moral leadership in the United States: the current administration has turned the virus into a political problem. There are many regulations that countries are supposed to follow when writing legislation about refugees or undocumented immigrants. The border ban implemented on March 20th disproportionately affects asylum seekers, and ICE began to turn those seeking asylum away without even hearing their cases. Under international and federal law, this is only allowed to happen if the asylum seekers pose a direct threat to the United States. Yet, there wasn't a significant basis for that argument during COVID-19, especially if new policies surrounding the processing centers were implemented.
The treatment of refugees and detainees in ICE centers is awful. These centers are overcrowded, and according to ICE statistics, as of June 4th, over 50% of tested individuals were positive for COVID-19 in ICE detention centers— even though only a fraction of detainees were tested. Basic social distancing and safety regulations are clearly not kept in place by ICE.
Furthermore, even for those already in the U.S., healthcare systems are still inaccessible to people because of their jobs or legal status. If you don't qualify for the Affordable Care Act, you cannot receive any of the federal aid that citizens normally have. These people often don't have access to any sort of aid, even if they wish to seek medical care. Because COVID-19 is very contagious, this not only poses a threat to those specific people, but also creates an even bigger problem within the greater community.
The statistics are pretty shocking… Even though I’ve read the stories online and in the news, seeing and analyzing the numbers puts this reality into alarming clarity, and makes you realize how deeply rooted these problems are in our systems. How can we reconcile these violations of basic human rights with the ideals that the U.S. was built on?
Written by: Michelle Zimmermann