Claim: Texas Governor Greg Abbott has blamed the rise in Covid-19 cases in Texas on the influx of undocumented immigrants crossing the border between Texas and Mexico.
Rating: FALSE. There is no evidence that the rise in COVID-19 cases is because of undocumented immigrants. Multiple health experts instead point to unvaccinated individuals as the reason for the surge of COVID-19 cases.
Over the past few years, there has been a surge of migrants coming from Central America (Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador). The reasons for their migration are complex, and include worsening economic situations related to Covid-19, cartel violence, natural disasters, and government corruption. U.S. politicians have blamed these migrants for the rise in COVID-19 cases, despite lack of evidence.
In March 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott told CNBC that: “The Biden administration has been releasing immigrants in South Texas that have been exposing Texans to COVID. Some of those people have been put on buses, taking that COVID to other states in the United States.”
A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found 55% of Republicans and 40% of unvaccinated respondents blame immigrants and tourists for the U.S.’s high cases of COVID-19. However, this narrative pushed by Abbott is false and there is no evidence for his claims.
For example, in Hidalgo County, Texas, which contains the largest migrant processing facility in the U.S., no migrants have tested positive for COVID-19.
“There have been 34 confirmed cases of COVID-19 variants in Hidalgo County — not a single one involves a migrant,” Carlos Sanchez, the county’s head of public affairs, told USA Today. In addition, any migrant that does test positive for COVID-19 at the border is immediately isolated.
Abbott’s comments arrived at a time when the Delta variant of COVID-19 was on the rise in the U.S. According to health experts, Delta did not arrive to the U.S. from Mexico. According to Yale Medicine, the Delta variant first spread in the UK and India. In a study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it was international travel, not migration, that caused new variants to be introduced to the U.S.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN that the surge in COVID-19 cases “is not driven by immigrants. This is the problem within our country, the same way it’s a problem with other countries throughout the world.”
What is causing the COVID-19 surge?
Multiple health experts have said that the continuing spread of COVID-19 is due to people who are not vaccinated against COVID-19, who are more contagious than people who are vaccinated.
In August 2021, at the height of the Delta outbreak, between 93% and 98% of COVID-related hospitalizations in Texas were among unvaccinated people. As of Jan. 13, 2022, only 57% of Texans are fully vaccinated, and a majority of those admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
“Is this the pandemic of the migrants? No,” said Dr. Ivan Melendez, the chief medical adviser for the Hidalgo County Medical Authority in Texas, at a press conference. “This is the pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Says Dr. Michele Heisler, a professor at the University of Michigan, to FactCheck.org: “There is no epidemiological evidence that migrants at the U.S. southern border are driving the spread of the Delta variant. When you look at the hotspots of infection with COVID-19, they are all locations with very low rates of vaccination. That is the common denominator. Many of these hotspots are far from any international border and in rural areas with very little presence of migrants.”
Experts have also said that immigrants are a convenient target for politicians, because it allows them to blame outsiders rather than examine the shortfalls of their own policy. “We blame disease outbreaks on immigrants in place of really looking at other factors — our own behaviors,” said Natalia Molina, a professor at the University of Southern California, to NPR.