The coronavirus pandemic has led the United States and other countries to adopt migration restrictions of unprecedented severity. Following the measures adopted under the Trump administration last year, the US became more closed to immigration than at any time in its history. While the Biden administration has lifted some of the restrictions, others remain in place.
The apparent rationale for these policies was the need to stop the spread of the virus. In reality, however, migration bans have done little to protect public health and have caused enormous suffering. They also undermine scientific innovation that allows us to better cope with pandemics and other long-term health risks. The Biden administration should immediately lift the remaining migration restrictions linked to the pandemic, and Congress would do well to ban such policies in the future.
Last year’s sweeping migration restrictions have barred entry to almost all immigrants seeking permanent residence, suspended the issuance of most work visas, reduced refugee admissions to their lowest ever recorded, and used the public health powers of Title 42 to deport nearly all asylum seekers at the southern border, including many who would otherwise be entitled to hearings for their claims.
A combination of unfavorable court decisions and the actions of the Biden administration lifted many of these migration restrictions, including work visa suspensions, the most immigrants are prohibited from applying for permanent residence and travel bans targeting Muslims that were adopted before the pandemic. From November, the administration open the front door to vaccinated foreign travelers. Corn President BidenJoe Biden Former lawmakers sign brief to counter allegations of Trump’s executive privilege in Jan. 6 inquiry Biden appoints Sara Minkara as U.S. special adviser on international disability rights Fox poll shows Youngkin leads McAuliffe to 8 points among probable voters PLUS perpetuated many of the old President TrumpDonald TrumpD’anciens lawmakers signed a memorandum counter Trump claims of executive privilege in the January 6 investigation. A Fox poll shows Youngkin McAuliffe leads by 8 points among likely voters.the most blatant policies, in particular the expulsions of Title 42.
Some 1.2 million migrants were expelled under that policy, including hundreds of thousands since Biden took office. Although Biden increased Trump’s refugee ceiling from 15,000 to 62,500 for fiscal 2021, actual refugee admissions in Biden’s first year are on track for a record low of 11,445. The fact that the administration does not process green card applications on time is likely to exclude some 80,000 potential immigrants – one of the largest reductions in legal immigration in modern American history.
These restrictions have failed miserably in the goal of containing the spread of Covid-19 virus in the United States, where more than 750,000 Americans died of COVID-19. Maintaining many restrictions also didn’t stop the more contagious Alpha and Delta variants from quickly taking hold there. At best, restrictions only briefly delayed the entry of the virus.
Many public health experts condemned the evictions of Title 42, noting that they are doing little to stop the spread of the disease and can even facilitate its spread. Infectious disease specialist Dr Anthony FauciAnthony Fauci Olivia Rodrigo reveals ‘strange’ gift she received while visiting White House CEO: Merck set to distribute tens of millions of doses of COVID-19 antiviral pills if approved On the front line of American cultural wars: Cable news PLUS, a leading COVID policy adviser under Trump and Biden, recognised that “to expel [immigrants] … Is not the solution to an epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which issued the policy order, probably did it under political pressure from Trump’s White House, against the advice of its own experts. Restrictions on other types of immigration have also not significantly limited the spread of the virus.
Indeed, migratory restrictions may do more to spread the disease than to contain it. By making it nearly impossible for most migrants to enter the United States legally, we have created a large population of undocumented migrants who are strongly urged to avoid vaccinations and tests, lest they be brought to the attention from the authorities seeking to expel them. Furthermore, detention centers for migrants used to facilitate expulsion may promote the spread of disease because of poor sanitation.
The idea that migration restrictions can stop the spread of the disease is not completely wrong. If a nation could be sealed off from almost all outside entry, it could stop the spread of a virus. Arguably Australia has managed to restrict the entry of Covid by adopting a draconian policy, and by combining with restrictions on internal freedom of movement and civil liberties. However, measures below this are unlikely to prevent highly contagious diseases from reaching our shores. And hermetic sealing is seldom feasible or defensible. Governments will almost inevitably make exceptions for commerce, citizen travel abroad, and other contingencies. Even Australia did not prevent the entry and spread of the Delta variant.
With readily available vaccines, any good that could be achieved through restrictions on migration can more easily be achieved by requiring vaccination in exchange for the right to live and work in the United States. Recent data from the CDC indicates that those vaccinated are six to ten times less likely (depending on age group) to be infected with COVID than unvaccinated people. The vaccinated are also much less likely to spread the disease even if they catch it. Unlike exclusion, vaccination in exchange for entry does not create incentives for illegal migration and the spread of disease in detention centers. Many immigrants are already vaccinated on entry – a practice that could be generalized as a replacement for pandemic migration restrictions.
Migration restrictions linked to the pandemic have inflicted immense suffering on people fleeing poverty and oppression, including refugees fleeing violence, poverty and repressive regimes in Cuba, Venezuela and Haiti. Many people deported under Title 42 and other policies may be sentenced to a life of deprivation or even death.
Immigrants to the United States and Europe make disproportionate contributions medical, scientific and technological innovations, and immigration restrictions could block many of these advances. Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines have been both developed by businesses run by immigrants or the children of immigrants from poor countries, who would not have been able to make their vital contribution to these breakthroughs if they or their parents had been prevented from leaving their country of origin. Immigration restrictions can prevent further scientific advances by trapping talented people in societies where they lack the opportunities to contribute. Some of the migrants banned by the US government in the past 18 months may have made great technological and medical breakthroughs.
The COVID-19 migration restrictions still in place should be lifted. We should also learn from our mistakes and, at the very least, more stringent safeguards against the adoption of similar policies by future presidents.
Ilya Somin is Professor of Law at George Mason University and author of “Free to move: voting on foot, migration and political freedom”(Revised edition to be published in December). Follow him on twitter @IlyaSomin.