The announcement of the Trump administration earlier this week of extending a visa ban to cover nonimmigrant visas, including H-1B, H-2B visas and some J and L visas, has drawn opposition from leaders in science and Tradewho claimed it would make the United States less competitive, hindering science, education, economic growth, and job creation.
The presidential proclamation, titled “Proclamation Suspending Entry of Aliens Who Pose a Risk to the U.S. Labor Market Due to the Coronavirus Outbreak,” says allowing such “aliens” to enter the country would be “prejudicial to the interests of states -United”. This contrasts with the opinion of most experts, including the editorial pages of reliable business-friendly newspapers like the the wall street journal, which suggest that this proclamation would in itself be detrimental to the American economy. We agree that this decision is doomed for an already dire US economy.
However, from our point of view, this is not the central concern of this proclamation.
This latest announcement from the Trump administration is an extension of repeated and self-defeating “otherness” policies. These policies have had ramifications on the personal, professional and political lives of people living in this country and are intimately linked to the three simultaneous crises currently facing the United States: an unprecedented pandemic, record unemployment and widespread civil unrest. in response to systemic racism.
There are many things underlying these challenges, but we suggest that each of them may be linked to our failure to perceive our basic common humanity and short-sighted, reactive leadership that seeks to double down on this denial. as the scapegoat “the other”. “That is reflected in this most recent announcement.
Why do we say this?
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the we although it subsides in most Europe, in part because the United States has a disproportionate number of marginalized and disadvantaged populations, who are often stigmatized as “the other.” African Americans and Latinos face racial discrimination in education and use and in access to justice and basic opportunities. Widespread, long-standing, and reflected in the murder of George Floyd, this discrimination shapes population-level health through poor health and lower life expectancyleaving affected populations with fewer assets to fill employment gaps, less ability to work abroad and a greater risk of become unemployed as the economic crisis spread. Structural racism is the very definition of a local problem, which can be solved by policies and political will. Instead, the disparate results observed have been repeatedly presented, such as in this most recent proclamation, as being due to the “other” or the “outsider”.
In fact, COVID-19 has demonstrated the truism that health is a social good. My health depends on your health, yours on mine, and both on our collective ability to isolate ourselves. If there are people in this country who, because of discrimination or stigma, cannot self-isolate, get tested, or get treatment, which is not only fundamentally unfair and harmful to them, but detrimental to all of our health.
No wealth can overcome the fact that containing COVID-19 becomes much more difficult when parts of the country have been deprived of investments in basic public health services, when undocumented migrants fear being tested or care in case they are deported or separated from their children and when COVID-19 spreads among the largest prison population in the world.
“Othering” not only exacerbated this pandemic, it also helped trigger it. Despite statements to the contrary, the United States has had ample time to to prepare as COVID-19 raged in China, the country’s leaders chose to portray this pandemic as a problem of “the other”, noting that it was a problem with a Chinese, then European epicenter. This destructive alterity is perhaps embodied, to our great historical shame, in the “Chinese Virus” connection.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once wrote, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The COVID-19 pandemic has also shown that poor health anywhere is a threat to health everywhere. It becomes clear that the life, freedom and happiness of each depend on the life, freedom and happiness of all.
In this time of upheaval, the United States stands at a crossroads. We can continue down the path of self-destructive otherness, or we can recognize the fact of our essential unity and reshape our society in a way that reflects it.
Nason Maani, PhD, is a Harkness Fellow at the Commonwealth Fund and the Boston University School of Public Health.
Sandro Galea, MD, DrPH is Dean and Robert A Knox Professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, and co-author of the book, “PAINED: Uncomfortable conversations about public health.”