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Some of you might have heard and been concerned about reports that President Biden’s new policies will result in migrants caught by U.S. border authorities being released into the United States without being tested for the CCP Virus. If you knew how much potential for superspread these policies hold, you’d be even more concerned.

Under President Trump, the problem appeared under control because Washington ended the policy of processing migrants who crossed the southern border illegally and then releasing them into the United States to await future hearings on their requests for permanent residency. Instead, apprehended migrants claiming to be asylum seekers, were returned to Mexico (whatever their nationality) until their cases could be brought up. And last March, these policies were extended to all would-be border crossers due to pandemic concerns.

Yet due at least partly to the Biden administration’s immigration-welcoming statements and actions (including during the campaign), migrant flows northward have surged, and current U.S. detention centers have been filling to overflowing despite American court orders preventing them from holding detainees for more than 72 hours in certain facilities in Texas. Worsening the situation has been Mexico’s new refusal in some instances to accept migrants expelled from U.S. territory. (See here for details.) And the new U.S. President seems determined to facilitate immigration inflows generally.

Therefore, the U.S. Customs and Border Enforcement (CBP) agency publicly acknowledged last week that “some migrants will be processed for removal, provided a Notice to Appear, and released into the U.S. to await a future immigration hearing.” Crucially, this practice is proceeding even though CBP doesn’t test arrivals for the CCP Virus unless symptoms are visible. (See the previously linked article for the statement.) 

Which is where the public health threat comes in. Because data from the virus has seemed to be unusually prevalent among these migrants. To begin with, although figures only go through August, a paper published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that the monthly rate of cases in detention centers was more than 13 times that for the U.S. population as a whole.

Although the JAMA authors wrote that increased testing at the centers only partly explains these high numbers, it also points out that they may also stem from “challenges faced implementing the Pandemic Response Requirements” – like overcrowding. At the same time, they confirm that because asymptomatic detainee testing has been “limited,” even these case numbers could be underestimates. And since migrants tend to be relatively young, asymptomatic cases are surely more common than among legal U.S. residents generally.

The total number of virus cases found among migrants in the detention centers since February has been small – just over 9,300. But the real measure of the danger comes from the incidence of the CCP Virus in the migrants’ main native countries – which look to be sources of large and ever greater greater supply going forward.

Yes, their overall case rates are much lower than their U.S. counterparts, as these data from the Worldometers.info website show:

cases per million

U.S.:                  83,687

Mexico:            14,920

Guatemala:         9,052

Honduras:         15,573

El Salvador:        8,708

One big reason, however, is that they’ve done so little testing, as these numbers from the same source make clear:

tests per million

U.S.:               984,900

Mexico:            37,781

Guatemala:      45,624

Honduras:        39,569

El Salvador:   110,338

Given the immense virus-related uncertainties revealed by these statistics, any measures that increase the numbers of untested migrants in the United States are simply incomprehensible for any government taking seriously the obligation to protect its own population. And given the tight controls already restricting individual, group, and business activities in the United States, these Biden decisions seem even less defensible.

It’s one thing for the new President to reject an America First framework for public policy. It’s quite another to adopt positions that merit the bizarre and perverse label “Americans Last.”