Countering myths: Contagion

This is part two of a five part series on countering myths about undocumented immigrants.  For other posts in this series, select from the following: part one (Il/legal).  Check back for part three (Workplace Abuses); part four (Deportation); and part five (Telling Our Own Story).


by PD

Some say immigrants bring disease.  This accusation has been leveled at immigrants for over a century:

“The Irish were charged with bringing cholera to the United States in 1832. Later the Italians were stigmatized for polio. Tuberculosis was called the ‘Jewish disease.’ . . . . Asians were portrayed as feeble and infested with hookworm, Mexicans as lousy, and eastern European Jews as vulnerable to trachoma, tuberculosis, and—a favorite ‘wastebasket’ diagnosis of nativists in the early 1900s—‘poor physique.’” Source.

The USA seems to have survived many waves of immigration despite these fears – our current low standing on world health scores is due entirely to crummy policy.  The news media haven’t yet blamed our epidemic of prescription drug abuse on immigrants, but no doubt some blogger somewhere is making that claim.

Of course not everyone who comes to the US is totally healthy, just as not every one of the tens of millions of US residents who work or vacation overseas every year can avoid bringing back germs.  The immigration control people do screen immigrants for disease, and if some people get here under the radar, that’s because our broken system encourages unauthorized immigration, as discussed in the previous post in this series.

In short, in a world where Ebola is a few hours’ plane ride away, where in any case climate change is going to make the whole range of tropical diseases endemic to much of the US, blaming illness on immigrants makes no sense.  Sorry, a border wall is not going to trouble Zika-carrying mosquitoes in the least.  If we were truly concerned about contagious diseases, we would do our best to support efforts to bring clean water and good health care to the billions of people without these.



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