By Elket Rodríguez
Across the ages, pandemics have packed punitive punches:
- From 1347 to 1351, the black death swept across Europe. Mobs scapegoated Jews, murdering thousands.
- In the early 20th century, the Spanish flu spread throughout the world, and millions died. In the United States, the pandemic spawned racial and social unrest, prompting the deaths of many African Americans in what has been called the Red Summer of 1919.
- In 2020, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 122,000 Americans. Social and racial unrest trouble the land, and the U.S. government has leveraged COVID-19 fears to quash immigration.
Since COVID-19 was declared a national emergency, the government has issued almost 50 immigration policy changes, curtailing legal immigration and restricting immigrants’ and refugees’ access to multiple humanitarian benefits.
Some policy changes seemed reasonable in March, when the government struggled to stem the novel coronavirus outbreak. But now, it is using COVID-19 as an excuse to indefinitely and permanently impose an agenda of hate on immigrants.
Some of these new rules are indefinite and unrelated to the spread of the coronavirus.
Monday, President Trump issued a proclamation suspending certain work visas, precluding foreign workers to enter the United States. That day, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued a regulatory change restricting asylum seekers’ access to work authorizations.
On June 15, the Department of Homeland Security issued new rules making asylum seekers’ entry into the United States almost impossible. The rules would stifle the opportunity for pastors who flee persecution to come to the United States.
The most troubling of these policies are implemented at the Southern border. The Asylum Seeking Ban returns thousands of asylum seekers, especially unaccompanied migrant children, who continue to be expelled to Mexico or deported—all without due process.
Refugee Entry Suspension and Resettlement Restrictions for Unaccompanied Migrant Children have halted resettlement of refugees and immigrant children in the United States. Continuous postponement of their “Remain in Mexico” hearings has caused immigrants who live in tent camps and shelters in Mexico to confront constant uncertainty, desperation and despair.
All these policies—along with multiple travel, visa and “green card” bans—have crushed immigration. Ironically, policy revisions have not delivered on the politicians’ promises: Despite predictions to the contrary, coronavirus infections continue to increase nationwide.
So, history is repeating itself. Foreigners and racial minorities continue to suffer the consequences of pandemic disruptions, exacerbating already unfair and discriminatory social systems.
In the first century, Emperor Nero blamed Christians for the Great Fire of Rome and killed multitudes. In the 20th century, Benito Mussolini blamed foreigners, including Jews, for Italy’s unrest and persecuted them, and Adolph Hitler blamed the Jews and the Gypsies for Germany’s demise, and genocide followed.
Throughout history, majority populations have blamed ethnic and racial minorities, migrants, refugees and vulnerable people for their own failure to deal with society’s root problems.
The plot remains the same: A political leader wields hate and propaganda to blame the vulnerable—especially foreigners—for the country’s challenges. The leader grasps power as he grasps the throats of the powerless.
The sin—not only of leaders but their enabling followers—is not fear of the unknown. The sin is hatred toward the demonized “other.”
Let us not follow the narratives of the past. Let us stand up and be Christ’s presence in dark times. Let us love the strangers in our midst, but also raise our voices for the vulnerable as Christ did.
To see a list of immigration policies implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit National Immigration Forum here.
Elket Rodríguez is the immigrant and refugee advocacy and missions specialist for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Fellowship Southwest.