In recent months, especially since President Joe Biden took office, Republican leaders’ misleading rhetoric regarding COVID-19 has reached a fever pitch. Many have repeatedly expressed “concern” that people are coming across the border with COVID, and assert that if we were really concerned about stopping the spread of the virus, we would close the border. Despite this, it is Texans—overwhelmingly white Texans—who are transmitting coronavirus, Signorile noted. “[It’s the] ‘Immigrants bring disease’ kind of trope … using that as the reasoning.”
This is a strategy the GOP seems to fall back on time and time again when the party becomes embroiled in yet another crisis of its own making and have nothing of substance to actually offer when it comes to solving it: change the subject and find someone else to blame. As Ortiz explained:
In addition to Newt Gingrich, Ron DeSantis made the same kind of claim about immigrants bringing over disease. [Republicans] do this when they know they’re feeling a lot of heat; when there’s trouble, they go immediately to blaming immigrants … You know, in the largest migrant centers in Texas, up to 90% of families coming through are accepting the vaccine. That’s almost 90%. If you look at among Texans, within the last couple of weeks, it’s been around 40, 42% are taking the vaccine. We know that there’s nothing here. This whole attack on immigrants is part of the anti-immigrant playbook. And actually, within the last couple of days, the Biden administration is reportedly looking at a plan to implement the vaccines along the entire border … so we could see even more vaccines going out right now.
Our country has more than enough vaccines. Yet many Americans don’t want to take it, and many migrants do, highlighting not only disparities in vaccine access but also the fact that Americans pose the greatest risk to their own health when it comes to COVID-19—not migrants. “I actually said a little while ago, this might be a good strategy to get all those other people vaccinated. ‘They’re taking my vaccine!’ Then maybe they’ll get it,” said Signorile.
U.S. citizens being detained by ICE have also been a major problem, Ortiz said, as ICE has not only detained hundreds of these Americans over the last five years, but also deported as many as 70 U.S. citizens. In one New York man’s case, he was detained for three years because he had no outside help to get that documentation to ICE, and because of the statute of limitations, he couldn’t sue. “Because ICE has always been so bad at record-keeping, the numbers may be even higher,” Ortiz added. “It’s a matter of, just, ICE didn’t bother to note that they were American citizens.”
“They don’t care because it’s not about that—it’s about racism,” Signorile quipped.
The singular focus on “dangerous” migrants has shifted the focus away from the largest source of violence and danger within our borders, according to Ortiz:
It [is] domestic terrorism rooted in white supremacy that is the biggest threat to our nation—it’s not asylum seekers, it’s not undocumented immigrants. It’s white domestic terrorism. Just look at January 6. There’s a direct line there of the right-wing rhetoric that eventually turned into physical violence … It just underscores the ties to all these groups and what Donald Trump has fomented and continues to foment.
Officers of color were also subject to racialized abuse from the insurrectionists, who repeatedly berated them and questioned their Americanness and their patriotism. Xenophobic language has a ripple effect, harming all people of color. “Republican leaders, especially from Texas, know this, and they’re still refusing to stop this rhetoric,” Ortiz added, recalling the El Paso shooting from two years ago. “We know that ‘invasion’ rhetoric, the kind that we heard from the former president, is what led to this … and we’re still seeing that kind of rhetoric today from the governor.”
Regarding ways to increase protections for immigrants and undocumented families, Ortiz feels hopeful about budget reconciliation:
The president explicitly said he was in support of reconciliation. The vice president has supported it as well, publicly. Democratic lawmakers met with the president last week on the subject, and it seems to me like they made it very clear that reconciliation is the best chance in years to pass [this kind of legislation] for these communities. The House has passed legislation two sessions in a row, and just like then, it’s still getting stuck in the Senate due to the 60-vote threshold. So we are still waiting to hear what the parliamentarian’s opinion is on this.
What’s more, policies like the DACA program have always been consistently and overwhelmingly popular, yet are still framed as something controversial, Ortiz said, calling out how the media quotes anti-immigrant hate groups because that’s what they have to do to get “both sides.”
That Republicans are still hankering to limit immigration and fighting majority-approved policies like DACA does not surprise Signorile, who once again noted that “Republicans cling onto this issue … it’s their go-to issue when they’re sort of desperate.”
You can listen to the full audio here: