Trump’s immigration policies are spreading COVID-19. Fox News personalities are cheering it on.


Citation Molly Butler / Media Matters

The Trump administration’s policies of continued deportations and mass incarceration of undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers during the COVID-19 crisis are spreading the disease within the United States and across Central and South America and the Caribbean, but this hasn’t stopped right-wing media from cheerleading these extreme policies. 

In April, mainstream media outlets reported on the risk deportation policies posed in terms of spreading the virus around the world. Since then, this risk has been realized -- especially in Guatemala. According to The New Yorker, “Guatemala’s health minister, Hugo Monroy, announced that between fifty and seventy-five per cent of deportees who had just arrived in the country were found to be infected.” The New Yorker also reported that “other countries in the region have been forced to deal with deportees infected with the virus, including Colombia, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, and Haiti, many of which have fragile health-care systems, scant hospital space, and a dearth of ventilators.”

On May 12, Vox reported that deportees have tested positive for COVID-19 across Central America and the Caribbean: There have been over 200 such cases in Guatemala, at least two cases in Mexico, and at least three in Haiti. 

Beyond deportations, mass incarceration has spread COVID-19 through detention facilities operated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement around the country, threatening the lives of all who work and reside in these squalid spaces. Among ICE detainees, 1,073 have tested positive for the virus, but only 8% of this population has been tested, and about 50% of those tested were positive. Carlos Escobar-Mejia was reportedly the first ICE detainee to die from COVID-19, passing on May 6 at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego. 

Multiple class-action lawsuits have been filed on behalf of detainees who have been and continue to be exposed to the virus. And this crisis has spread fear among undocumented immigrants, causing many to avoid testing so they can avoid the attention of authorities and risking further spread.

The Trump administration’s response to the spread of COVID-19 among detainees and deportees has been an exercise in feigned concern followed by unceasing enforcement.

ICE surveillance and arrest campaigns ramped up in February under the name “Operation Palladium,” and they continued until a week after the U.S. government declared the coronavirus crisis a national emergency. In March, ICE announced that it would “temporarily adjust its enforcement posture” to focus on arrests of “individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds.” But Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Ken Cuccinelli immediately walked this back, saying ICE will “conduct enforcement operations that protect our communities and uphold our laws.” At one point in April, the Trump administration claimed to have suspended the deportation of Guatemalans pending review of these concerns. But in early May, the deportations resumed, and The Associated Press recently reported on 10 people on a May 13 deportation flight who tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Guatemala. 

Throughout this grim timeline, right-wing media have continued to urge the Trump administration to adopt a draconian approach to enforcement during the public health crisis, including mass detention and deportation, and falsely blamed community infections on so-called “illegal immigrants.” In reality, the opposite is true: The United States’ extreme immigration and deportation policies pose a public health threat to communities across the country and the broader region.

Here is how Fox News personalities are cheerleading deportation and detention amid a global pandemic:

Fox News host Tucker Carlson lamented on May 12 that the House coronavirus relief package would suspend deportations for essential workers and characterized the proposed provision as “blanket amnesty for virtually every illegal alien who has already taken an American job.”

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Citation From the May 12, 2020, edition of Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight

TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): The bill contains an amnesty provision for the duration of the coronavirus crisis. That's something they'd like to see extended a very long time. All illegal immigrants employed in so-called essential services would be shielded from deportation, and their employer would be shielded too. People who hire illegal aliens could not be prosecuted. Now, don't be fooled; this is not about protecting physicians who are critical to providing medical care to the rest of us.

Current essential workers, as they are defined in this bill, is in fact an enormous category that spans almost every part of the American economy. It includes employees in food services, laundry, waste management, child care, agriculture, transportation, restaurants, as well as any retail worker in America who works at a location that sells food or beverages. This is a blanket amnesty for virtually every illegal alien who has already taken an American job, and once this amnesty is granted, it will never be taken away. Bet on that, no matter what they tell you.

Anyone who lives in Washington can confirm that. Once passed, it's not going away, and at that point there will be no more debate about illegal immigration. The issue will be settled permanently, and Democrats will win every presidential election for the rest of your life, the rest of your children's lives, the rest of your grandchildrens' lives. That’s the point of this.

But the bill keeps going from there. The bill would automatically extend current guest worker visas while raising the ceiling for additional ones. Democrats have called this bill the HEROES Act -- they’re telling you it will help health care workers. But as of tonight, thousands of American health care workers are being furloughed from their jobs or fired entirely. This bill, remarkably, orders DHS to expedite visa processing for foreigners who want to come to the U.S. and work in health care. Got that? 

Fox News contributor Tom Homan complained about a judge’s order to release ICE detainees at a California facility and argued against social distancing in detention facilities during the April 27 episode of Fox & Friends First. Homan also fearmongered by reading from a list of crimes committed by detainees who had been released because of the coronavirus pandemic. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has since overruled the judge and halted the order.

ROB SCHMITT (CO-HOST): Where is the line between prevention and overstepping existing law? Joining us with reaction is retired ICE director and Fox News contributor Tom Homan. So thanks for coming back to the show. Do you think that on this judge’s part, is this just purely political?

TOM HOMAN: It absolutely is political because, as you said, this facility, Adelanto facility in California, it’s -- first of all, it’s one of the best facilities ICE has, one of the finest facilities in the entire world, with the highest level of medical care, highest detention standards in the industry. There are zero cases of COVID -- they’re being tested every day.

This isn’t about the health and safety of the detainee. This is about another attack on ICE, ICE detention, by the advocates, open-border advocates that are against this president’s immigration agenda. It’s obvious.

Further in the order, though, the judge says you have to continue dropping that detention until you can guarantee a 6-foot social distancing from each other, from each detainee and from the guards, 6-foot social distancing from the detainee. If you do the math in this facility, they’re going to go from 1,900 beds to less than 500 beds, which means 75% of that population will be released. Now, the judge says in the order you can deport them, but ICE can’t deport them -- if they could deport them, they’d already be deported; they don’t have final orders yet -- or you can transfer them to another facility, but the judge says in the order but that facility must also maintain 6-foot distance. Again, there’s no facility, whether it’s state, federal, detention facility in the country is built that way, which means bottom line is they have to be released.

So far, ICE has been ordered to release over 100 criminal aliens back into the community. I just want to read a couple here to you -- San Francisco, attempted murder, released; Chicago, felony homocide, released; Detroit, homocide, released; New York City, sexual abuse of a child, ordered released; Massachusetts, a Jamaican that was convicted of rape, released. These are by orders of liberal judges in sanctuary cities.

Homan wrote a May 1 op-ed on titled “Liberal judges use coronavirus as excuse to free detained illegal immigrants, endangering public.” Homan attacked judges who have ordered detainees to be released and claimed that inmates were actually safer in detention than if they were not incarcerated. He also claimed there are no cases of COVID-19 in a detention facility in Adelanto, California, when that same day it was reported that only six detainees out of nearly 1,300 had even been tested. Two weeks later, an ICE employee at the facility tested positive for the virus. From the May 1 op-ed:

Of course, no one can guarantee that any one person will not be infected with the coronavirus, even in detention. But many detainees will be safer in ICE facilities where the population is controlled and there is ready access to doctors and medical care.

No mass release is needed or practical. Let’s just call these lawsuits against ICE detention facilities what they are: an attack on President Trump’s immigration agenda. They are also an attack on the rule of law.

Those on the left will continue to use every crisis they can to achieve what they always wanted – even if it means releasing criminals who could victimize members of the public.

We can all agree that the coronavirus pandemic is serious. But that doesn’t mean the rule of law doesn’t exist. It doesn’t mean that those ... who knowingly violate the law shouldn't face consequences. It doesn’t mean we stop being a nation of laws.

I hope that the Justice Department is gearing up for a fight and will appeal the dangerous and irresponsible rulings by the judges described above. This is a battle we cannot lose. If we don’t fight hard against the tyranny of judges seeking open borders we will not only lose this battle, we will lose the entire war against the progressive agenda. 

On the May 13 episode of The Sean Hannity Show, disgraced former Fox host Bill O’Reilly attacked Democrats for proposing to temporarily suspend deportations, falsely claiming they’re doing so to secure their political power.

Hannity O'Reilly 5/13

Sean Hannity
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Citation From the May 13, 2020, edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show

BILL O’REILLY: There are very interesting things in this bill that no one will get to see because Americans don’t get to see all of that and the media will never report on it. The first one is illegal immigration. The bill gives temporary protection from deportation to just about every illegal worker in the United States during the pandemic, but it doesn’t say when the pandemic ends. So as long as there is one case in America of COVID, the protection from deportation exists.

And the reason that the Democratic Party wants this, it’s a total Democrat bill and it’s not going to get passed, by the way, so we’re just talking why Nancy Pelosi and her fun friends did this. It’s not going to get passed. They did it because they are close -- the Democratic Party is close -- to permanently establishing a power base in this country. And let me prove that to you. Here in New York, where Hannity and I live, there is no Republican Party to speak of, and the reason is because 45% of all the workers in New York City, population 8 and a half million, are foreign nationals.

All the Democrats have to do is flip Texas and Florida into the blue category and we have a one-party country, and you do that by flooding the zone with foreign nationals. Which is why the open-border movement has gained traction in the Democratic Party and this crazy virus bill contains this unbelievable stuff about illegal aliens.

SEAN HANNITY (HOST): I think you’ve hit on a lot of truth.

Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade characterized an outbreak among dual citizens in the San Diego area as America “dealing with other countries’ issues” during a May 14 segment. Kilmeade and Homan discussed a Wall Street Journal report on a coronavirus outbreak among dual citizens and documented immigrants in Chula Vista, California. Homan fearmongered about undocumented immigrants -- who were not mentioned in the story -- bringing disease across the Southern border, saying that “it’s not new that disease comes across that border every day” and then referring to efforts in detention facilities to deal with measles.


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Citation From the May 14, 2020, edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends

BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): Tom, this is different. We’re actually talking about legal immigration coming in and overwhelming a city south of San Diego City, which is now the third most for coronavirus patients. Why are they still dealing with other countries’ issues?

TOM HOMAN: Well, see, Brian, I wrote an op-ed on April 9 on I said this was going to happen. Look, this COVID is nothing new, even though it’s a terrible disease, it’s a new disease, it’s not new that disease comes across that border every day. When I was ICE director, we had facilities that were cohorted and shut down over measles, which this country defeated decades ago.

We’ve had TB cases that were unrecognizable that there was no known treatment for and we spent months trying to come up with some way to treat this person. Imagine if that person was released in our community. And I said in my op-ed that there will be Mexican nationals attempting to come to the United States to a better health care system, and plus their economy is taking two hits.

KILMEADE: These guys and women are coming over, but it is legal but then they’re allowed to use our system, which is crazy.