Virus as Foreign Invader: U.S. Voters & the Immigration Debate

26 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2021

See all articles by Rebecca Sharpless

Rebecca Sharpless

University of Miami - School of Law

Date Written: February 19, 2021


Nativist sentiments against classes of immigrants have existed since colonial times. But views about immigration and immigrants drive U.S. electoral politics now more than ever, accounting for a significant number of voters who crossed party lines in the 2016 presidential election. The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to harden deeply-held beliefs about outsider threats and further entrench the polarization of public views on immigration. During his campaigns and term in office, President Trump popularized nativism, breaking from the received wisdom of the Republican party. Casting the virus as a foreign invader, he built on fears of the contagion to alter immigration policy in fundamental ways, including shutting down the border and eviscerating asylum protections. Nativism has allowed President Trump and his supporters to harmonize their contradictory beliefs that, on the one hand, anti-virus public health measures do not require strong collective action within the country, but, on the other, they justify extreme restrictions against immigrants. Over the long term, changing demographics and an increasingly positive view of immigrants and immigration signal that the country is on a trajectory to a more open society. In the short term, however, the Biden administration must contend with the surge of nativism stoked by President Trump and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keywords: Immigration, Nativism, COVID-19, Corona Virus, Pandemic

JEL Classification: K37

Suggested Citation

Sharpless, Rebecca A., Virus as Foreign Invader: U.S. Voters & the Immigration Debate (February 19, 2021). University of Miami Law Review, Vol. 75, No. 2, 2021, University of Miami Legal Studies Research Paper No. 3792614, Available at SSRN:

Rebecca A. Sharpless (Contact Author)

University of Miami - School of Law ( email )

1311 Miller Drive
Coral Gables, FL 33146
United States

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