Lawmakers Say Migrant Children Are Diseased, Should Be Denied Shelter

A 14-year-old Guatemalan migrant is left stranded in a wooded area in Mexico after the freight train she was traveling on had a minor derailment. CREDIT: REBECCA BLACKWELL/ AP
A 14-year-old Guatemalan migrant is left stranded in a wooded area in Mexico after the freight train she was traveling on had a minor derailment. CREDIT: REBECCA BLACKWELL/ AP

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.

Tom Wassa, a Republican candidate for the Michigan House of Representatives, said at a meeting to discuss housing child refugees in Vassar that the children have “known diseases and gang affiliations.” He added, “This places without question many Michigan families in harm’s way. President (Barack) Obama would be classified as a domestic terrorist. He is creating an atmosphere of fear and terror.”

Mayor Alan Long of Murrieta, recently in the news for protesters preventing three buses carrying undocumented immigrants from driving to a Border Patrol processing facility, said in an interview, “you don’t ship people that are ill and contagious all over the country.”

Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) also wants to prevent unaccompanied minors from being placed in Hazleton. “There are groups that are looking to relocate the newly arrived unaccompanied minors in neighborhoods across the United States, including Hazleton,” Barletta stated in a press release. “We have no assurances that these children have been screened for diseases, or that there have been background checks conducted on them or the people who are seeking to take custody of them.”


And Barletta is one of several members of Congress who are crying “disease” in response to the unaccompanied migrant crisis. “Reports of illegal immigrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning,” Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) wrote in a letter addressed to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday. “Many of the children who are coming across the border also lack basic vaccinations such as those to prevent chicken pox or measles. This makes Americans who are not vaccinated — and especially young children and the elderly — particularly susceptible.”

During a radio interview with Frank Gaffney, Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX) said Tuesday, “I heard on the radio this morning that there have been two confirmed cases of TB — tuberculosis — and either one or two confirmed cases of swine flu, H1N1… We’re thinking these are diseases that we have eradicated in our country and our population isn’t ready for this so for this to break out to be a pandemic would be unbelievable.”

Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX) went on a tirade stating to the conservative publication NewsMax that “we don’t know what diseases they’re bringing in.”

One organizer of the Murrieta protest claimed that his three-year-old granddaughter’s hand and foot disease was a “direct result of the illegal immigration coming in.” Other protesters held signs to “save our children from diseases” and to “protect your kids from diseases.”

There have been a handful of reports that children have swine flu, tuberculosis, measles, and chickenpox. But while Central American kids are at higher risk for tuberculosis, mainly an upper respiratory disease, it is not only treatable and curable, but the Department of Health and Human Services screens and quarantines the children who test positive for TB. In fact, the first step once kids are intercepted by border agents is to perform health screenings on each individual.


The general population is likely safe from swine flu because the vaccine for it is part of the trivalent influenza vaccine that’s administrated annually. Measles and chickenpox vaccines are available and already required, although the recent uptick in measles outbreaks can be partially blamed on parents who forgo their kids’ MMR (measles, mump, rubella) vaccine based on the belief that vaccines cause autism. Reports of Ebola virus (a West African disease), as Gingrey suggested, seem to be downright doubtful since people with the virus develop dramatic symptoms within days, and are probably too busy hemorrhaging blood to make the treacherous journey into the United States. And Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease is a benign infection that can be picked up anywhere like the playground and in daycare centers, not just by three-year-olds granddaughters who somehow have direct access to unaccompanied children.

According to the World Bank, many of these unaccompanied children have already been vaccinated. The vaccination rate in the United States hovers at 92 percent, but comparatively, 99 percent of Mexican children are vaccinated as are 93 percent of kids coming from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

The argument that immigrants are infecting the country with diseases is not a new phenomenon. As the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) explained, then-CNN host Lou Dobbs contended in 2005 that illegal aliens were bringing in “highly contagious diseases” while Pat Buchanan said that undocumented immigrants brought bedbugs into the country. Other anti-immigrant activists claimed that leprosy, malaria, TB, and Chagas disease had become issues as well. SPLC countered that malaria can only be transmitted by mosquitoes — not humans, the bedbug issue can be attributed to the increased use of baits instead of insecticide sprays, Chagas disease can only be transmitted through blood-to-blood contact, and that leprosy cases have been on the decline. Leprosy, for whatever it’s worth, can instead be attributed to armadillos.