Close Menu

Fletcher Insights: Coronavirus' Impact on Migration at the U.S.-Mexico Border

U.S. policies around coronavirus exacerbate the fundamental drivers of migration, says Fletcher Professor Katrina Burgess.

A year ago, the news cycle was dominated by concerns about families being separated at detention centers and managing asylum seekers. Today, because of the pervasive media COVID-19 coverage, the public is blind to the ballooning human security issues migrants face, says Katrina Burgess, associate professor of political economy at The Fletcher School.  

In the latest edition of The Fletcher Insights series, Professor of Practice and Director of the Henry J. Leir Institute Eileen Babbitt welcomes Burgess for a discussion on how COVID-19 is impacting migration - and matters of human security - at the U.S.-Mexico border.  

"Unfortunately, the situation has gotten a lot worse even though it's not in the news nearly as much," says Professor Burgess. This is, in part, due to the pandemic but the United States' policy responses are also responsible. The [so-called] 'Remain in Mexico' policy, for example, has returned more than 60,000 asylum seekers to Mexico to wait for their court hearings. The conditions in overcrowded shelters and migrant camps are exacerbated by the hardships brought on by the pandemic. "These people are stuck with lack of healthcare in cramped spaces without access protection and social distancing," Burgess says.

In the midst of the pandemic, Burgess attests that the Trump administration is taking full advantage of the public health crisis to remove asylum seekers and close the borders. Draconian measures include postponing court dates, policies that require migrants to gather at points of entry where they are at risk for virus exposure, and deporting migrants who have tested positive for COVID-19 back to vulnerable countries. 

How will this impact migration patterns for the future? Burgess argues that the U.S. responses to the pandemic are exacerbating the fundamental drivers of migration: economic uncertainty, poverty, frayed healthcare systems, increase repression, higher levels of violence, etc. It's her prediction that as the U.S. comes out of the pandemic, people will be desperate to get somewhere safe and migration will increase. 

"Essentially, the U.S. immigration system, and particularly the asylum system, may be now broken beyond repair," she says. But Burgess does see a potential ray of hope: Crisis can bring opportunity to fundamentally rethink how the United States wants to redesign and rebuild asylum seeking. 

Watch the full Fletcher Insights discussion below.    


Join us for this latest Fletcher Facebook Insights Series as #FletcherProfs Eileen Babbitt and Katrina Burgess discuss how migration at the U.S.-border has been impacted by COVID-19.

Posted by The Fletcher School at Tufts University on Friday, May 22, 2020