No, immigrants are not contributing to a surge in COVID-19 cases

A Texas doctor said while there is a risk of unvaccinated immigrants spreading the virus, they pose the same threat as all other unvaccinated people.

PHOENIX — Republican leaders have claimed the rise in COVID-19 cases are because of undocumented immigrants who allegedly tested positive for the illness and have been released into communities by federal authorities. 

It's a claim that is also making the rounds on social media. But is it true and is it happening in Arizona? 12 News set out to Verify.


Are immigrants to blame for the rise in COVID-19 cases in the country and in Arizona?


No, health experts say the fast-spreading delta variant and lack of vaccinations are the contributing factors. 

RELATED: Valley vaccine sites seeing increase in turnout


  • Fernando Silvas, Santa Cruz County epidemiologist
  • Arturo Garino, Nogales mayor 
  • Dr. Ivan Melendez, Local Health Authority in Texas
  • CDC data
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection
  • International Rescue Committee


There are two rising trends: COVID-19 and the number of immigrants encountered at the border.

On average, 100,000 people a day nationwide have tested positive for the coronavirus. And in July, border apprehension reached a 21-year high with 210,000 encounters. 

Santa Cruz County Epidemiologist Fernando Silva told 12 News that his community, just like the rest of the country, is seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases, but said he "would not blame migrants for this uptick."

"The cases that we have, I haven’t seen a trend where they are a non-resident, migrants or anything of the sort," Silva said. "These are just regular citizens who are unvaccinated, and they are getting exposed”

Santa Cruz County is on the southeast border with Mexico. Its biggest city is Nogales – and for the town's mayor, Arturo Garino, the pandemic is different from other northern non-border towns. 

“A lot residents from Arizona are going to Mexico every Friday and Saturday and they’re going to the beaches, they are going everywhere … and that could be a possibility that that could be a reason why we’re probably getting more cases,” Garino said. 

Data from the CDC shows cases nationwide are up more than 15% in the last seven days.

RELATED: Banner Health sees 95% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations, 300% increase in ventilator usage

Hotspots are linked to states with the worst vaccination numbers in the country – Alabama, Mississippi, Louisana, Arkansas and Georgia – which have less than 39% of people vaccinated.

None of these states border Mexico. 

RELATED: EXPLAINER: How do border policies affect US infection rates

RELATED: Nearly 1 in every 15 U.S. COVID deaths in August is in Louisiana

Dr. Ivan Melendez with a county Local Health Authority in Texas said while there is a risk of unvaccinated immigrants spreading the virus, they pose the same threat as all other unvaccinated people.

“Is this the pandemic of the migrants? No. It’s a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” he said.

RELATED: Yes, at least 95% of people currently hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement the agency provides personal protective equipment to migrants in its custody and those who are transferred or released. 

The agency said if anyone exhibits signs of an illness, they are referred to local health systems for appropriate testing, diagnosis and treatment. 

In Phoenix, migrants processed by agents end up at the International Rescue Committee's Welcome Center. The nonprofit provides COVID-19 tests and vaccines through a partnership with the Maricopa County Department of Public Health and a local medical clinic. 

Those who test positive are referred to quarantine with the county. 

"The fact that we still need more people vaccinated, there’s less mask wearing, people are socializing more, people are traveling more, these are just some factors contributing to this increase," Silvas said. 

12 News Verify

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