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Right blames diseases on illegal border crossings

A long, shameful tradition of blaming diseases on immigrants was kept alive this week by several far-right Republicans.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel walk along a section of the recently-constructed fence at the U.S.-Mexico border on Feb. 26, 2013 in Nogales, Ariz. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)
U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel walk along a section of the recently-constructed fence at the U.S.-Mexico border on Feb. 26, 2013 in Nogales, Ariz.
With rising concerns about measles, many policymakers and public-health officials are concerned about vaccinations and the importance of the American public taking medical science seriously.
In some far-right circles, however, there's an entirely different concern. Take Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), for example.

In an interview with conservative radio host Matt Murphy Tuesday, Brooks suggested that not only were undocumented immigrants bringing diseases across the U.S. border, but that they likely have caused a number of deaths of American children. "I don't think there is any health care professional who has examined the facts who can honestly say that Americans have not died because the diseases brought into America by illegal aliens who are not properly health care screened as lawful immigrants are," Brooks said. Brooks suggested that migrants who cross the southwestern border of the United States might be a factor in the latest [measles] outbreak.

Alas, it's not just Brooks. Right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who was ever-so-briefly a voice of reason in Republican politics this week, told Jake Tapper this week that the measles outbreak in California may be linked to undocumented immigrants.
And this week in Maine, Gov. Paul LePage (R) strayed from his prepared text while delivering his State of the State address, arguing that "some of the illegals" may bring "hepatitis C, HIV, and tuberculosis" into the United States.
There is no evidence to support any of this, but it is part of a long and ugly pattern of demagoguery.
Then-Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) seemed to get the ball rolling last summer, telling the Centers for Disease Control unaccompanied migrant children from Central America may be carrying "deadly diseases," including the Ebola virus, despite the fact that there is no Ebola virus in Central America. Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) soon after raised the same concern.
Jamelle Bouie had a great piece a while back highlighting 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.

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.

As we're seeing this week, the regrettable tradition continues.