Right-wing media have stripped context from a report that a small fraction of people released from Customs and Border Protection custody in a Texas city have tested positive for the coronavirus, using it to fearmonger about immigrants worsening the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This fearmongering is just the latest xenophobic smear from right-wing media attacking immigrants as carriers of disease.
On March 2, NBC News and Telemundo reported that since January 25, 108 people released by immigration authorities in Brownsville, Texas, who were tested for the coronavirus by the city had a positive result. The article put this number into proper context -- the positivity rate for these people released from custody was a relatively low 6.3%, compared to the overall Cameron County positivity rate of 13.8%. It also explained that some nongovernmental organizations were providing resources to the coronavirus-positive people, such as offering to quarantine them.
It’s important to note that the Biden administration hasn’t reduced coronavirus testing at the border. Also, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has stalled the administration’s efforts to provide more COVID-19 resources at the border in his state and lifted public health restrictions, even as he -- without evidence -- blamed the administration for “exposing Texans to COVID” by releasing immigrants from custody. (In fact, the Trump administration’s inhumane immigration policies led to COVID-19 outbreaks across Central and South America and the Caribbean.)
This isn't the first time right-wing media have engaged in the xenophobic smear of immigrants as disease carriers. In just 2019, Fox News pushed disgusting smears that immigrants were harboring Ebola, avian flu and scabies, measles, and mumps and tuberculosis. Fox did the same thing in 2018, claiming that immigrants might be bringing smallpox, leprosy, HIV, rabies, and more to the U.S.
Here are a few examples of the current fearmongering campaign, which has not been limited to just Fox News.
- Sinclair Broadcast Group anchor Jan Jeffcoat noted that “currently 6% right now of migrants are testing positive for COVID,” without mentioning the higher rate in the county, while guest Mark Morgan of extremist anti-immigration group Federation for American Immigration Reform claimed “our borders are open” so “of course you’re going to have people with COVID.” [Sinclair Broadcast Group, The National Desk, 3/4/21]
- Gateway Pundit: “Super-spreader Joe Biden is releasing COVID positive migrants into US interior.” [Gateway Pundit, 3/4/21]
- Turning Point USA founder and President Charlie Kirk: “The left is outraged Governor Abbott would lift a statewide mask mandate in Texas but they have no problem with unmasked, unvetted, and untested illegal immigrants pouring over their border by the thousands.” [Twitter, 3/2/21]
- Newsmax host Michelle Malkin commented on the story, saying, “COVID is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to communicable diseases that are being let -- allowed to metastasize in this country.” [Newsmax, Rob Schmitt Tonight, 3/2/21]
- One America News host Stephanie Hamill, during a segment on what the channel described as an “illegal immigrant invasion,” said: “I also heard a report today that some -- like about 100 illegal immigrants were released out in our communities that had tested positive for COVID-19. That is so reckless, I just can’t believe that they’re allowing this to happen, especially in the middle of a pandemic.” [One America News, In Focus with Stephanie Hamill, 3/3/21]
- The next day, Hamill said she can’t take the Biden administration seriously on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic “when we’re hearing reports that illegal immigrants who have tested positive for coronavirus are being released in communities.” [One America News, In Focus with Stephanie Hamill, 3/4/21]
- Fox host Tucker Carlson blamed the supposed lack of COVID-19 guidelines for migrants “travelling freely” with the virus. [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 3/3/21]
- Fox host Sean Hannity fearmongered about COVID-19 within “a surge of new illegal immigrants pouring across the border.” [Fox News, Hannity, 3/3/21]
- Fox host Laura Ingraham said migrants will “flood our public schools” and in return we get “potential COVID super-spreaders.” [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 3/3/21]
- Fox host Jeanine Pirro accused immigrants of bringing “all kinds of diseases” into America. [Fox News, Hannity, 3/4/21]
- Fox anchor Neil Cavuto brought up the story of 108 immigrants in Brownsville who tested positive for COVID-19 and said “these are some pretty scary waves” regarding the surge of immigrants traveling across the border. [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 3/3/21]
- Fox’s The Five co-host Katie Pavlich said: “They’re letting these people in who are COVID-positive after we’ve just gone through this pandemic. It’s absolutely insane -- it’s insane.” [Fox News, The Five, 3/3/21]
- Fox correspondent Casey Stegall reported that “more than 6%” of immigrants in Brownsville tested positive for COVID-19 since January without noting that the positivity rate in Cameron County is double that. [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 3/3/21]
- Fox guest and former Trump State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said: “There is super-spreader news coming out of Texas today, but it's not about Gov. Abbott's announcement, it's about what you're seeing going on at the border.” “This is not only turning into an immigration issue,” she added. “We now have potentially a public health issue as well.” [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 3/3/21]
- Fox contributor Newt Gingrich said: “If there's a problem with COVID in Texas it's not Gov. Abbott, it's Biden's illegals … coming in the country, no public health check.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 3/3/21]