Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) seemed to get the ball rolling in mid-July, telling the Centers for Disease Control unaccompanied migrant children from Central America may be carrying “deadly diseases,” including the Ebola virus.
Gingrey’s fear-mongering was easily dismissed as nonsense, but it helped touch off a fair amount of ugly demagoguery. Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) also raised the specter of an Ebola outbreak caused by migrant children – remember, there is no Ebola virus in Central America – and Republican congressional candidates like Arizona’s Andy Tobin have raised related fears.
Governors are apparently getting into the game, too. Emma Jacobs reported [important correction below].
Immigration experts are questioning statements by Gov. Tom Corbett that child migrants from Central America could cause “health issues” in Pennsylvania.Speaking on Pittsburgh radio station KDKA on Friday, the governor said he wanted children to remain in border stations in Texas and Arizona until they can be screened for communicable diseases.
Specifically, the Republican governor, in the middle of a very tough re-election fight, said during the interview, “Measles is one that comes to mind very quickly and whatever other diseases that they may or may not have,” he said.
That “may or may not have” line is especially interesting, since Corbett is effectively conceding his fears are based on nothing. The governor just wants to engage in reckless speculation for the sake of reckless speculation.
As the local report explained, all of this comes in the wake of a plan from The Holy Family Institute, a Roman Catholic group in Pittsburgh, that hopes to provide temporary housing for about 40 children under the age of 12. Corbett sees the move as an “imposition.”
Whatever imposition there may or may not, let’s set the record straight on the nature of the health risk.
In this case, there isn’t one. As Paula I. Fujiwara, the scientific director of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, recently explained, that there is no health crisis from immigrant children at the border.
Corbett specifically mentioned measles. NBC News, citing World Bank data, recently explained that “some of the countries that the kids are traveling from actually have higher vaccination rates than the United States. The U.S. has a 92 percent vaccination rate for measles. Mexico vaccinates 99 percent of its children; Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras all have a 93 percent vaccination rate.”
Jamelle Bouie recently documented the ugly tradition of raising health fears about immigrants, before concluding, “Today, anti-immigrant protesters hold signs asking Washington to ‘Save our children from diseases,’ while right-wing lawmakers fret about disease screening and spread fears of infection and contamination. In doing so, both draw from a long history of ugly nativism and prejudice dressed as concern for public health. And you don’t have to be a liberal, or support immigration reform, to see that it’s a disgrace.”
* Correction: This piece originally said Corbett made the comments over the weekend, which is incorrect. Rather, the governor’s concerns were raised in July. In fairness, it’s important to emphasize that the circumstances surrounding this story have changed considerably over the last four weeks, and both Corbett and his administration have considerably more information now.