When we think of our home, it’s a place where we can feel safe, a place we can grow, and somewhere we can dream. It’s a beautiful thing when you have the privilege to say that this is true. Because for many, the US is their home and yet are constantly having to prove their worth, and are often the first ones to blame when something goes wrong.
And that’s just what happened last week, when Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez called people arriving at our border seeking protection “infected migrants” who he worried were “endangering our communities.” Not people in a vulnerable position who need care but rather a “surge” and “influx.” He did this while issuing an emergency disaster order that singled out vulnerable immigrants arriving between ports of entry even while tourists and citizens arriving by plane or ship after traveling around the world without being subjected to testing, isolation, or quarantine.
But how can immigrants be essential and at the same time be scapegoats? How can they be carrying our nation on their backs in the middle of a pandemic—risking their lives and health of their families for our communities to have food on their plate—and still be the blame for the inaction of our government?
We often hear the phrase “history repeats itself” and when it comes to immigrants, the US has a long and racist history of using immigrants as scapegoats for diseases. Let’s take a look back starting with the 1800s when Irish immigrants were blamed for cholera, then Italians for polio, and Jews for tuberculosis. Later in the 1900s, Chinese immigrants were blamed for spreading the bubonic plague. Today, we see the same narrative blaming people of Asian descent for spreading COVID-19. They feared going outside and were victims to violent hate crimes. Yet, many Americans are traveling internationally to go on vacations even though the countries they were going to were vulnerable and lack access to vaccinations and economic help. All of these are examples of immigrants falling prey to xenophobic and racist history and a way to continue the hurtful rhetoric that worsens the prospect of finally winning just laws and enclusion for immigrants.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott lifted the mask mandate and many COVID-19 protocols in economic interest, not in the interest of the safety and health of the people of Texas. Currently, only 44.4% of people in the state of Texas are fully vaccinated. Many Americans refuse to get vaccinated and a whole lot more are on the fence about it, falling into doubt because of misinformation spread by elected officials and social media. This is important to highlight because power-hungry politicians like Gov. Abbott often use immigrants as the scapegoat when in reality, they are not enforcing COVID-19 regulations and protocols. Governor Abbott refuses to allow local governments to implement COVID-19 protections and public school children are going back to school without mask mandates.
Additionally, the US Justice Department last month sued Texas after Abbott signed an executive order to restrict the travel of undocumented immigrants leaving DHS processing, under the guise that they could be spreading COVID-19. It is unconscionable that Gov. Abbott is unleashing the state police to target people seeking safety and the good-hearted Texans helping them. We’ve seen time and time again that Abbott constantly uses border communities and immigrants to continue his racist policies and fails to enforce health policies to protect our communities.
Individuals and organizations at the border fill the gaps left by government inaction to ensure that people are welcomed with dignity and compassion. From a governor who continues to ban mask mandates and catastrophically mismanaged the state’s pandemic response, Greg Abbott’s executive order only serves to protect his own greed and power. We need to protect all immigrants and keep Texans safe from COVID-19. We are strong enough to do both. In fact, keeping immigrants safe keeps us safe. The virus does not recognize borders. Neither should our solidarity. As long as the pandemic rages and we fail to vaccinate our people, we are all at risk of variants that become more difficult to control.
Xenophobia and racism hurts us all. Extending compassion to newcomers and defending their dignity benefits us all. When our governor creates mandates that target and discriminate against immigrants, it allows for other people like Judge Cortez to feel empowered to shift the blame to immigrants as well. Our community needs to embrace and welcome immigrants with respect and dignity. We must push for citizenship for ALL. We can’t continue to pick and choose to help immigrants when it is convenient and beneficial to our economy. Immigrants are essential not because they contribute to society but because they are human beings who deserve human rights. We need to lend our hand and not close our doors when someone needs our help. We must protect them because they should be able to say that they feel safe in their home, our home.
Anna Sanchez is the rapid response digital organizer for La Unión del Pueblo Entero. She mobilizes LUPE’s digital supporters to fight for and win federal legislation to provide a path to Citizenship for all immigrants.
Contact Anna at firstname.lastname@example.org.