Immigrants seeking asylum in the United States pose a “problem” because they can bring in “foreign types of diseases,” Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) claimed during a town hall meeting this week.
“Asylum seekers — I think the biggest problem in our state — and I’ll explain that to you,” the Tea Party governor said during a standing-room-only town hall meeting, according to the Maine Public Broadcasting Network. “And what happens is you get hepatitis C, tuberculosis, AIDS, HIV, the ‘ziki fly,’ all these other foreign type of diseases that find a way to our land.”
The crowd responded to LePage’s remarks with jeers of “Shame. Shame.”
The ‘ziki fly’ does not actually exist. LePage was likely referring to mosquitoes that can carry the Zika virus, which has been linked to a condition called microcephaly that causes birth defects such as smaller-than-average heads and brain development issues.
The Zika virus has recently become big news in Latin America — particularly in Brazil, where there has been a sharp increase in the number of people infected. Zika has not yet made its way to Maine, according to Reuters.
Even if the so-called ‘ziki fly’ did appear in Maine, it wouldn’t necessary be at the fault of asylum seekers or immigrants, who are not more likely to suffer from health issues. In fact, most immigrants are healthier than native-born Americans.
Though there has been a steady increase in the number of Central American women and children arriving at the southern U.S. border to claim asylum because they’re fleeing violence and poverty, those people surrender to Customs and Border Protection agents in the United States. After they’re apprehended, asylum seekers then undergo medical screenings where they’re examined for immunizations, questioned about their history of disease, given age-appropriate vaccines, screened for tuberculosis, screened for HIV unless they opt out, among other medical examinations.
Nonetheless, LePage has a long history of using fearmongering tactics to ascribe immigrants and foreigners as disease-ridden. During his State of the State speech last year, for example, LePage veered from his prepared remarks to suggest that undocumented immigrants could spread hepatitis C, HIV, and tuberculosis, the Huffington Post reported. He has also previously blamed “illegals” for the “spike in hepatitis C, tuberculosis and HIV” in his state after a worker with acute hepatitis A served food that possibly exposed customers to the virus.
Other GOP politicians have also blamed immigrants for scary public health outbreaks. Last year, lawmakers claimed that Central American children fleeing violence in their home countries in their states could bring in the Ebola virus, which originates in West Africa.
Across the country, there has recently been backlash to allowing asylum seekers to resettle in U.S. states. Several states — including Arizona, Florida, and South Carolina — are currently considering legislation that would make it easier to block refugees.