When it comes to unaccompanied migrant children from Central America, some have dealt with the humanitarian crisis more responsibly than others. A few weeks ago, for example, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) told the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there have been “reports of illegal immigrants carrying deadly diseases,” including the Ebola virus.
Gingrey, himself a physician by trade, might have missed the fact that we’re talking about children fleeing Central American countries where Ebola doesn’t exist.
The far-right Georgian took a fair amount of flak for such reckless fear-mongering, but it appears Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) missed the story because he made the exact same mistake.
According to the Northwest Indiana Times, Rokita said that the issue of infection had come up during a conversation with fellow Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-IN), who happens to also be a heart surgeon.“He said, look, we need to know just from a public-health standpoint, with Ebola circulating and everything else – no, that’s my addition to it, not necessarily his – but he said we need to know the condition of these kids,” Rokita said, according to the Times.
To be sure, the Ebola virus needs be taken seriously. But irresponsible demagoguery does not. Unless these Republican congressmen believe these poor migrant children recently took a trip to sub-Saharan Africa, it’s safe to say Ebola is not a legitimate concern.
Indeed, Paula I. Fujiwara, the scientific director of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, made a powerful case over the weekend that there is no health crisis from immigrant children at the border.
So what explains such reckless rhetoric from elected federal lawmakers?
Jamelle Bouie recently explained the sad American tradition.
Chinese immigrants in 1900 were accused of carrying the bubonic plague; Irish immigrants were accused of bringing cholera to the United States; Italians were blamed for polio; and Jews were blamed for Tuberculosis. And on and on – this just keeps happening. From Jamelle’s piece:
Beyond the present situation, the most recent attacks on immigrants as carriers of disease came during the Bush administration. In 2005, an episode of Lou Dobbs Tonight falsely asserted, “We have some enormous problems with horrendous diseases that are being brought into America by illegal aliens,” including 7,000 cases of leprosy in the past three years. On his radio show, Bill O’Reilly agreed that immigrants were crossing the border with “tuberculosis, syphillis, and leprosy,” and in 2006, Pat Buchanan claimed “illegal aliens” were responsible for bedbug infestations in “26 states.” In reality, health officials attribute the growth in bedbugs to “widespread use of baits instead of insecticide sprays” for pest control.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.