The COVID-19 Immigration Moratorium: Reasonable Not Racist

The Washington Post has published an article attacking President Trump’s recently announced a temporary COVID-19 immigration halt as “racist,“ “nativist” and “xenophobic.” According to the post, “immigration is not a vector for the spread of the coronavirus, which is already circulating within the country.” Therefore, the “immigration suspension has nothing to do with coronavirus.”

If Carly Goodman, the author of the Post article, really believes this, she is either engaging in self-delusion worthy of Don Quixote or a brand of semantic hair-splitting formerly associated with Stalinist Russia. 

The first person who transmits a disease of public health significance to a new cohort of individuals is known as the “index patient.” It has been widely reported that the index patient for the United States is a 35-year-old man from Washington State, who apparently became infected after traveling to Wuhan, China.

What has not been mentioned in the news coverage is any information about the man’s immigration status. And most commentary on immigration-related measures to halt the spread of COVID-19 suggests that because the index patient may have been a U.S. citizen, immigration is totally irrelevant to the spread of the coronavirus epidemic.

But that’s absurd. Whether the index patient was an immigrant (i.e., a foreign national who has taken up residence in the United States) or a native-born American has absolutely nothing to do with whether COVID-19 is transmitted through migration (the movement of any person from one geographic location to another).

It is long-established, scientific fact that this, and other viruses spread through human contact. It is also undeniably true that a traveler contracted this particular virus in Wuhan, China and unwittingly served as a host who transported the disease to the United States. 

There is nothing either shocking or racist in such assertions. We have known for at least a century that many viruses are transmitted by living hosts, either people or animals. And nobody has suggested that this virus is evidence that people of Asian ancestry are somehow inferior to Caucasians.

But, unable to deny the hard science, Ms. Goodman, reverts to unsubstantiated accusations of “racism.” This is a standard tactic of the open borders contingent. And, as Christopher Caldwell of the Spectator notes, “It conveys absolutely nothing but aggressively enough so as to cow others into swallowing any inclination to stand up and disagree with you. “

The problem with that approach is that it permits those employing it to sidestep inconvenient truths. In this case: the fact that this virus originated in China and that the Chinese government tried to cover it up. Politico, hardly a bastion of conservative nationalism, referred to the Chinese authorities’ actions as a “biological chernobyl.” Thus, it would appear that American criticism of China hasn’t been a display of xenophobia but a legitimate observation that Chinese government behaved abominably in responding to this crisis.

And, for the record: Criticism of poor sanitary practices in so-called “wet markets” are scientifically based, not racially motivated. Upton Sinclair published The Jungle, an expose on the American meat packing business, in 1906. The book was translated into at least 17 languages and became a worldwide best seller. Since that time, most people have understood that a healthy food supply chain requires hygienic processing procedures.

And it now seems that attributing the transmission of COVID-19 to the slaughter of bats in a wet market originated with the Chinese government (not “racist” Westerners), in order to hide the fact that the virus seems to have escaped from a virology lab where scientists failed to observe proper safety measures.

So, rather than some sneaky move to advance a racist immigration agenda, President Trump’s immigration moratorium appears to be exactly what he says it is – an effort to protect America’s public health. The first responsibility of America’s president is to protect the people of the United States from all enemies, foreign or domestic, even when those enemies are microbes.

About Author


Matthew J. O’Brien joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2016. Matt is responsible for managing FAIR’s research activities. He also writes content for FAIR’s website and publications. Over the past twenty years he has held a wide variety of positions focusing on immigration issues, both in government and in the private sector. Immediately prior to joining FAIR Matt served as the Chief of the National Security Division (NSD) within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where he was responsible for formulating and implementing procedures to protect the legal immigration system from terrorists, foreign intelligence operatives, and other national security threats. He has also held positions as the Chief of the FDNS Policy and Program Development Unit, as the Chief of the FDNS EB-5 Division, as Assistant Chief Counsel with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a Senior Advisor to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, and as a District Adjudications Officer with the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. In addition, Matt has extensive experience as a private bar attorney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law.