Right-wing media recklessly scapegoat migrants at the border for COVID-19 surges

Despite long-running nativist tropes, reports indicate that migrants crossing the border are not significant spreaders of COVID-19

As Texas loosens coronavirus-related restrictions despite warnings that it may be too soon, the state's governor and right-wing media are scapegoating migrants crossing the border for any surge in COVID-19 cases, regardless of a lack of evidence to support these claims.

So far, Fox News has had at least 65 segments in March alone that fearmongered about migrants bringing the coronavirus into the country. This right-wing narrative conveniently repackages the familiar nativist trope about immigrants bringing diseases to fit the modern threat of the coronavirus. 

Despite their consistent effort to downplay the threat of the coronavirus and undermine any mitigation efforts over the last year, right-wing media are now blaming migrants for spreading the coronavirus, particularly in Texas, where Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has recently lifted mask mandates and other public health restrictions. This coverage includes consistently tracking the coronavirus cases among migrants and blaming the Biden administration for “flooding America with illegal immigrants sick with the coronavirus.” 

Abbott himself has also used right-wing media outlets to blame migrants for COVID-19 cases despite his own role in easing restrictions; on March 14, Abbott appeared on Fox News’ Sunday Morning Futures to rail against the Biden administration for causing a surge in migrants who are bringing coronavirus; during the interview, anchor Maria Bartiromo cited a Washington Times article that claims migrants are “flooding” across the border with “10 times the COVID rate as Americans.” 

The coverage linking migrants to coronavirus has been relentless: Since January 26, Fox has aired at least 90 segments during its weekday programming forwarding the argument that immigrants on the southern border pose a danger of spreading the coronavirus within the United States through lax immigration policy -- 65 of those segments aired in March. By far, Fox & Friends aired the most such segments -- 31 in total. One-third of the segments came on what Fox News calls its “news”-side shows.

Despite right-wing media’s apoplectic focus on the threat of migrants bringing the coronavirus, there’s little evidence that migrants are significant spreaders of the virus. The Associated Press recently reported: 

As he ended Texas’ coronavirus restrictions Wednesday over the objections of public health officials, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has tried shifting concern about the virus’ spread to migrants with COVID-19 crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, though without evidence they are a significant factor.


Doctors on the border fear Abbott repealed coronavirus safeguards too soon and threatens a fragile decline in COVID-19 cases. The surge of immigration to the border is also worrying, they say, but far from the biggest factor in containing the virus’ spread.

Reporting also indicates that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is releasing coronavirus-positive migrant detainees into communities without notifying local authorities as is protocol -- a fact that has been largely ignored in right-wing media’s coverage. 

The nativist trope that immigrants are significant sources of disease is not new, but the modern threat of coronavirus has given anti-immigrationists a new way to repackage these harmful tropes. In 2016, Fox News fearmongered that immigrants were bringing “disease” and posed “an illegal health risk.” Fox’s 2018 segments included spreading evidence-free conspiracy theories of a disease-infested migrant caravan bringing leprosy, rabies, HIV, and smallpox. In 2019, a Fox & Friends guest used recent measles outbreaks to suggest immigrants were bringing diseases and pushed debunked rumors of migrants bringing Ebola. That same year, Fox News prime-time host Laura Ingraham claimed that “most” of the migrants entering the U.S. could be carrying diseases, which could lead to a nationwide pandemic.

The racist and unfounded trope that immigrants are perpetual sources of disease has existed for centuries, but perpetrators of the myth pose a new threat in a modern world where many people are rightfully concerned about the spread of the coronavirus. Right-wing media’s disingenuous fearmongering merely repackages the nativist trope to fit with the coronavirus and continues to put immigrants at further risk.


Media Matters searched our internal database of all original, weekday programming on Fox News Channel (shows airing from 6 a.m. through midnight EST) for segments that analysts determined to include any suggestion that immigrants at the southern border pose a danger of spreading coronavirus within the United States due to current immigration policy.