Im/Mobility at the US–Mexico Border during the COVID-19 Pandemic




Blue, Sarah
Devine, Jennifer A.
Ruiz, Matthew P.
McDaniel, Kathryn
Hartsell, Alisa R.
Pierce, Christopher
Johnson, Makayla
Tinglov, Allison
Yang, Mei
Wu, Xiu

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Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute


In March 2020, the United States government began a series of measures designed to dramatically restrict immigration as part of its response to the global health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. This included Title 42, which deported asylum seekers immediately and prevented them from applying for asylum. These measures worsened an already precarious situation at the US–Mexico border for an estimated 60,000 asylum seekers who were prevented, by the Trump administration’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ (aka MPP) policy enacted in January 2019, from remaining in the United States while they awaited their asylum hearings. In-depth interviews, participant observation, and social media analysis with humanitarian and legal advocates for asylum seekers living in a camp at the border in Matamoros, Mexico reveal that COVID-19’s impacts are not limited to public health concerns. Rather, COVID-19’s impacts center on how the Trump administration weaponized the virus to indefinitely suspend the asylum system. We argue that the Matamoros refugee camp provides a strategic vantage point to understand the repercussions of state policies of exclusion on im/mobility and survival strategies for asylum seekers. Specifically, we use the analytical lenses of the politics of im/mobility, geographies of exclusion, and asylum seeker resilience to identify how COVID-19 has shaped the im/mobility and security of the camp and its residents in unexpected ways. At the same time, our research illustrates that camp residents exercise im/mobility as a form of political visibility to contest and ameliorate their precarity as they find themselves in conditions not of their choosing.



asylum, COVID-19, immobility, US-Mexico border, refugee camp, Geography and Environmental Studies


Blue, S. A., Devine, J. A., Ruiz, M. P., McDaniel, K., Hartsell, A. R., Pierce, C. J., Johnson, M., Tinglov, A. K., Yang, M., Wu, X., Moya, S., Cross, E., Starnes, C. A. (2021). Im/mobility at the US–Mexico border during the COVID-19 pandemic. Social Sciences, 10(2), 47.


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