The Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to halt immigration at the southern border through cruel, dehumanizing policies may be backfiring. As the world scrambles to contain the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak, there is a growing fear among experts that a distrust of the government and a fear of deportation will stop many people from seeking medical care if they fall sick with the virus, The Guardian reports. 

Max Hadler, Director of Health Policy at the New York Immigration Coalition told The Guardian that Trump has himself to thank for the dilemma we’re currently facing. “If you continue to discourage people from seeking services under normal circumstances, you cannot expect them necessarily to seek those services just because you as the racist, anti-immigrant president have decided that now it’s a good idea,” he said. “That’s not gonna work.”

The Guardian reports:

Even as coronavirus spreads across the US, the Trump administration is ramping up surveillance in so-called sanctuary cities, places where local police don’t always work with federal immigration enforcement. The operation’s goal is to “arrest as many undocumented immigrants as possible”, the New York Times reported, and it is being executed as prominent sanctuary cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles and New York stare down a potential coronavirus public health crisis.

Randy Capps, Director of Research for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute, pointed out to The Guardian that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could also be responsible for spreading the virus “if they go door-to-door in localities that have already been affected,” the news outlet reports. 

The Guardian adds:

Medical treatment and healthcare facilities are supposed to be “sensitive locations,” exempt from most immigration enforcement actions. But that has been undermined as reports from around the country have indicated ICE officers arrested or questioned people at or near hospitals. Last month, ICE brought a man in handcuffs out of a Brooklyn hospital after agents tasered and shot another person who tried to intervene in his arrest.

The updated Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds immigration policy, informally known as the public charge rule, will also have a deep impact on the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. The policy, which was approved by the Supreme Court of the United States on February 21, allows the government to punish immigrants who have applied for government services including Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and housing assistance by denying them a green card or a path to legal permanent residency. Although, as The Guardian reports, public charge “doesn’t apply to public health services, community health centers or hospital emergency rooms or preclude anyone from getting screened or cared for,” Capps expressed worry that it will still cause immigrants to hesitate before seeking healthcare. 

“This is a national health emergency crisis. The government needs to come out, and just be out, and say, ‘We’re not going to deport you,’” said Ally Bolour, a Los Angeles-based immigration attorney who sits on the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Board of Governors, while speaking to The Guardian. “If you’re sick, come on in. We’ll take care of you.’ I mean, nobody’s saying any of that.”

Representatives from The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) nor ICE have responded to The Guardian’s request for comment on the potential spread of coronavirus in immigrant communities.