Trump’s restrictive immigration policies may test coronavirus containment efforts

President Trump speaks at the White House about the U.S. response to the spread of the novel coronavirus, Feb. 29. (Getty Images)

As coronavirus spreads in the U.S.after hitting China, Japan, India and several other countries, concerns are growing among some experts herethat President Trump’s restrictive immigration policies could deter people from seeking urgent health services, belying government’s hope of containing the spread of the deadly virus.

Till date, more than 500 cases have been detected according to a CNN report quoting state and local health agencies, governments and the CDC. The national death toll has risen to 21, according to an NBC report March 8.

News reports say amid anxiety about the virus spreading in the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security began enforcing its new public charge rule late last month which is expected to deter many from seeking urgent medical assistance because of the growing scare about the virus.

Under the new rule, first released by the government in August 2019, many classes of immigrants, including SouthAsians, are now ineligible to receive a visa or permanent residency status if they are found likely to become a public charge.

“I think the worst thing that this rule is doing is to create fear in the community so

that even for things they are eligible for or have the right to use like the ChildHealth Plus, they are seeking to stay away from, lest joining such programs shouldjeopardize their Green Card or even citizenship,” SudhaAcharya, Executive Director of Queens-based South Asian Council for SocialServices told this correspondent in an interview in August last year when the new rule was announced.

Last week, news reports said millions of non-citizens are expected now to disenroll from Medicaid to avoid being identified as a public charge and it may also drive many parents to disenroll their children because of confusion and fear about the rule, even though the use of Medicaid by minors will not count against them.

“Just as more people are likely to start needing testing and treatment for a worrisome infectious disease, untold numbers of them may drop their health insurance and avoid health care for fear of being found a public charge,” according to a March 4 report

“With more people uninsured, hospitals will likely experience drops in revenue, even as they need to purchase new infection control equipment, and cope with a surge of patients in emergency departments and needing intensive care. These totally predictable consequences do not bode well for our ability to mitigate the pandemic,” the said.

An ABC report said the states reporting cases of the virus are Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

Dr. Don García, the medical director at Clínica Romero, which runs two clinics providing health services for underserved communities in the Los Angeles area, told NBC News he’s mostly concerned with the unforeseen impacts of the Trump administration's “public charge” rule.

“We should stop implementing the public charge rule in a time of emergency,” García said, adding that the coronavirus is the first case to test the country's ability to protect those lacking citizenship from becoming a “public charge during a biological war.”

An report said Democrats and public health experts are concerned that the Trump administration's immigration policies could scare immigrants away from getting medical help as the coronavirus spreads.

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, told senators March 5 that health care facilities are already “sensitive locations” where immigration enforcement isn't carried out, except in “exigent circumstances.”

The Axios report said Americans need to be able to get tested and see doctors. For immigrants, though, that can involve trusting the federal agencies that have made it harder for them to stay in the country.

“This administration has given immigrants very little reason to believe them,” Migration Policy Institute's Sarah Pierce told Axios. It said a DHS spokesperson pushed back on the impact the public charge rule would have on immigrants seeking medical care. “Nowhere in the rule does it say an immigrant will be denied a change in status if they seek medical care,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying by Axios.

The New York Times in a March 6 opinion piece noted that in late January, as the new coronavirus was making its first incursion into the United States, the Supreme Court upheld the Trump administration’s contested “public charge” rule, which enables federal officials to deny green cards to immigrants who use social safety net programs.

The decision received scant media attention, in part because it was overshadowed by the emerging epidemic. But public health experts warn that the two stories are intimately, perhaps disastrously, related, it said.

The NYT opinion piece noted that many changes to law and policy have been undertaken in the past several years under the banner of “self-sufficiency” and its close cousin “personal responsibility”, adding that “The wisdom of each of those measures will be sorely tested now, as the coronavirus threatens to morph into a full-blown pandemic.”

It said proponents of closed borders and small social safety nets have a tendency to highlight the tension between citizen and noncitizen, to imply or explicitly state that the only way to help one group is to deprive the other. “But the truth is, people on both sides are hanging by a thread.”

According to a Newsweek report, while talking about the coronavirus outbreak to a campaign rally crowd in North Charleston, South Carolina on Feb. 28, President Trump said the immigration policy instituted by the Democrats was “a direct threat”, adding that one must understand that border security is also health security.

“Whether it's the virus that we're talking about or many other health threats, the Democrat policy of open borders is a direct threat to the health and wellbeing of all Americans,” Trump said.


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