In this photo taken July 3, 2014, Flor Garcia, 19, of Honduras, holding her one-year-old daughter, Flor Fernandez, turned themselves over to Customs and Border Protection Services agents after crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico near McAllen, Texas.
Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman/AP

Extending a ‘long, sad, and shameful tradition’

The Texas Observer had a report the other day quoting historian Charles Rosenberg’s book, The Cholera Years. In it, Rosenberg noted that when Irish immigrants reached New York in the 1830s, they suffered disproportionately from cholera because they lived in poor and crowded neighborhoods.
Instead of working to help them, the report added, the medical profession blamed the disease on immigrants being “exceedingly dirty,” and Irish people were routinely refused medical care.
Regrettably, as NBC’s Maggie Fox explained yesterday, history sometimes repeats itself.
Doctors say they are concerned about false rumors and “hysteria” that the unaccompanied children coming across the border from Mexico into Texas are carrying diseases such as Ebola and dengue fever.
The rumors have been carried on anti-immigration websites but have made it onto some mainstream media sites and they’ve even caught the eye of a member of Congress.
Leading the charge is Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), who recently told the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there have been “reports of illegal immigrants carrying deadly diseases,” including the Ebola virus. The right-wing congressman also complained that many of the children “lack basic vaccinations.”
Let’s pause to note a few pertinent details that Gingrey, himself a physician by trade, might have missed.
For example, the children are fleeing Central American countries where Ebola doesn’t exist. Maybe Gingrey should have looked this one up before warning the CDC.
What’s more, according to the World Bank, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico each have a higher vaccination rate than the United States, making Gingrey’s CDC letter, among other things, ironic.
“There is a long, sad, and shameful tradition in the United States in using fear of disease, contagion and contamination to stigmatize immigrants and foreigners,” Arthur Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center told NBC. “Sadly, this letter which rests firmly on innuendo and fear-mongering proudly continues this unethical tradition.”
It’s also worth noting that while Gingrey’s demagoguery is disappointing, Esther Yu-Hsi Lee reports that he’s not alone among far-right officials and candidates.
As federal authorities open new facilities to house an influx of migrant children traveling alone across the U.S. border, some lawmakers are claiming they are too diseased to be held even temporarily. On Tuesday night, one Texas city passed a resolution to ban these facilities within city limits, citing “health and safety” concerns. Other lawmakers in Vassar, Michigan; Hazleton, Pennsylvania; and Murrieta, California have made similar claims that undocumented immigrants are diseased and are refusing to house them.
At last count, the list of lawmakers raising these fears includes several members of Congress, including Reps. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), Randy Weber (R-Texas), Louis Gohmert (R-Texas), and of course Gingrey.
What an ugly shame.