CBS segment gins up baseless, nativist fears over COVID-19 at the border

Today’s CBS This Morning ran with a popular right-wing trope to falsely scapegoat immigrants for the latest COVID-19 surge within the United States, while completely glossing over the impact of coronavirus-era immigration rules and the actual location of COVID-19 hotspots in the U.S. 

Throughout the summer, the U.S. has seen an increase in COVID-19 that is averaging about 60,000 new cases per day and 2,000 deaths per week. Ninety-three percent of all new cases are the delta variant, which experts say is a more transmissible form of the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that all Americans -- regardless of vaccination status -- wear masks indoors.    

During the August 10 edition of CBS This Morning, the network attempted to tie this latest COVID-19 surge to an increase in border crossings. The segment highlighted the border town of McAllen, Texas, and mentioned that there are “growing concerns” among state officials about migrants spreading COVID-19. 

During the segment, the reporter spoke to a local church volunteer and called the number of migrant crossings “overwhelming” before playing a clip of Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis seemingly accusing Democrats of not caring about COVID-19 when they “let” immigrants “hopscotch across that border”:

The only pushback in the nearly 3 1/2-minute segment was a brief mention that a CBS News medical expert said the number of coronavirus cases at the border is “relatively small” and the latest surge can instead be attributed to “the delta variant, low vaccination rates, and rolled back restrictions.” Additionally, the show’s tweet promoting the segment correctly noted that “the COVID surge in Texas is largely driven by unvaccinated Americans,” but it still framed the story around “growing concern the migrant crisis may be complicating the issue.”

The RNC Research Twitter account, which is run by the Republican National Committee, later tweeted out two clips from the CBS segment hyping the alleged concern over positive COVID-19 tests at the border. 

This particular narrative has appeared on multiple conservative platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic, including Fox News, Newsmax, and One America News Network. However, the broader right-wing media smear that immigrants are a vessel for diseases is a xenophobic myth that goes back years.    

In reality, there’s no evidence to back up the claim that immigrants are the cause of the latest COVID-19 surge, or even complicating it. 

Due to a legally dubious interpretation of immigration law, former President Donald Trump instituted a Title 42 detention policy, which “uses the dangers of the pandemic as a rationale to immediately turn people away at the border.” This means that many of the migrants apprehended at border towns like McAllen are not actually being let into the country. 

Under Title 42, about 80% of single migrants are turned away, as well as 15% of families. As former CDC epidemiologist Dr. Joseph McCormick told The Associated Press, the number of people being let into the country after being apprehended is not enough to drive this latest surge. 

The geography and timing of the surge also does not back up CBS’ segment. The current surge of border crossing goes back to March, while this latest COVID-19 surge started in June. And the states seeing the most positive cases are not just border states like Texas, but also Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida, and Missouri -- which also just happen to be the states with some of the lowest vaccination rates. 

The baseless myth claiming that immigrants are exacerbating the COVID-19 pandemic is a tired nativist trope that takes needed attention off of an actual crisis -- what the CDC’s director has called the “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”