Mayor of Arizona border town blasts Republican governors who blame COVID spike on asylum seekers

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·4-min read

Gerardo Sanchez, the mayor of San Luis, Ariz., has heard enough from Republican governors who have sought to blame the latest spike of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. on migrants crossing the border to seek asylum.

“For any governor to blame the crisis of COVID on the asylum seekers, who are people who are seeking protection, it’s really not fair,” Sanchez, a Democrat, told Yahoo News. “It’s just another way to blame somebody else for [a] lack of personal responsibility, in my opinion.”

Sanchez is also a physician’s assistant in the border town of 25,000 residents, and has watched firsthand as the Delta variant surges among those who have refused to get vaccinated. While he acknowledges that some migrants crossing the border into the U.S. have later tested positive for COVID-19, he bristles at the suggestion that they are in any way the root of the current surge in cases.

An asylum seeker and his child are detained by U.S. Border Patrol near Yuma, Ariz., in April.
An asylum seeker and his child are detained by U.S. Border Patrol near Yuma, Ariz., in April. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

“Yes, there are some positive COVID patients who are crossing the border, but you don’t have to be undocumented, you don’t have to be an asylum seeker, to be positive for COVID,” Sanchez said. “This is our third wave now [in the U.S.]. We’ve had two big waves, we cannot all blame them. It’s just an easy way, or a scapegoat, to blame someone else. I’m seeing a lot more unvaccinated people, who did not want to get vaccinated, and the more severe cases are those.”

Among the most vocal of the GOP governors linking the current COVID spike to the rise in the number of immigrants crossing the border seeking asylum are Arizona’s Doug Ducey and Florida’s Ron DeSantis.

“Joe Biden has taken to himself to try to single out Florida over COVID. This is a guy who ran for president saying he was going to shut down the virus. And what has he done? He’s imported the virus from around the world by having a wide open southern border,” DeSantis said at an Aug. 4 press conference.

Ducey sent a letter to President Biden in July asking him to keep in place Title 42, a Trump-era public health policy that allows for the expulsion of immigrants in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

A Central American woman seeking asylum is tested for COVID-19 at the bus station in Brownsville, Texas, in March.
A woman seeking asylum is tested for COVID-19 at the bus station in Brownsville, Texas, in March. (Veronica G. Cardenas/Reuters)

“As Arizona continues to deal with the man-made crisis at our border, ending Title 42 will threaten the health and safety of not only Arizonans, but all Americans,” Ducey said in his letter.

In the month of July, Customs and Border Protection encountered more than 200,000 people at the U.S. border with Mexico, a number not seen in two decades. As of now, migrants are not automatically tested for the coronavirus when taken into custody. They are tested only if there are obvious or serious signs of symptoms associated with the virus, according to the New York Times.

While Republicans like Ducey and DeSantis have portrayed the U.S. border as “wide open,” CBP has, using Title 42, expelled more than 750,000 people who have crossed into the country since March 2020, and that practice has continued during the Biden administration.

For Sanchez, there’s a logical flaw in the argument that seeks to blame immigrants for the recent Delta surge, especially given tepid vaccination rates in the U.S.

A migrant family from Brazil seeking asylum struggles up an embankment to reach the United States after crossing the dammed Colorado River from Mexico in Yuma, Ariz., in June.
A migrant family from Brazil seeking asylum struggles up an embankment after crossing the dammed Colorado River from Mexico in Yuma, Ariz., in June. (Eugene Garcia/AP)

“I mean, this is our third wave now. What’s going to happen when the coming weeks come? Are we going to blame someone else? Let’s take personal responsibility. I’m going to emphasize that personal responsibility. It’s really easy to blame someone else for your irresponsibility or your lack of responsibility,” Sanchez said.

In Florida, a state that does not share a border with Mexico and where the test positivity rate for COVID-19 stands at nearly 25 percent, the focus on migrants seeking asylum is especially galling to Sanchez.

“It’s very difficult to hear some politicians start blaming and pointing fingers while … not even half of our population is vaccinated,” he said.

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