Untested Migrants Risk American Lives
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Untested Migrants Risk American Lives

In the Australian e-journal, On Line Opinion, Patrick Basham’s article argues that the large number of medically untested migrants spreading across America portends a public health emergency.

US politicians care more about Americans travelling and working abroad than about the people actually living in America. That’s the inescapable conclusion from the recent revelation that migrants to the US are released throughout the country without undergoing basic medical examinations and tests for infectious diseases.
In written testimony to the US Senate Judiciary Committee, Acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kevin McAleenan revealed the 7,000 border crossers and illegal aliens DHS releases every week into the US interior do not undergo medical assessments and testing. On the risk, McAleenan wrote, “family units are released into our communities with unknown vaccination status and without a standard medical examination for communicable diseases.”
This public health scandal is occurring because border resources are grossly inadequate to the demographic challenge. Nearly 133,000 migrants were apprehended by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in May, alone.
Over a million migrants will illegally cross the US-Mexico border this year. DHS officials warn the sheer volume of people coming across America’s southern border is overwhelming available facilities. The average detention center is designed to house 1,200 people; currently, centers are each housing 13,000 people! We don’t know how many untested migrants have been exposed to or are carrying infectious diseases; we do know, however, that many tested migrants have serious health issues.
This is unsurprising since many trek thousands of miles to the US-Mexico border from developing countries plagued by inadequate health systems. African migrants, for example, are spending six to seven months traveling to Brazil then north to the US.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a euphemistic assessment: “The movement of people…between the US and Mexico creates special health challenges.” “Special” now has a human face: 5,200 people with mumps and chicken pox have been quarantined in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers. ICE has recorded cases of either mumps or chicken pox in 39 immigrant detention centers nationwide.
The CBP reports an average of 55 migrants per day to hospitals. Thirty-one thousand border crossers may be referred to hospitals this year, a 158 percent increase from 2018.
McAleenan told American senators the increasing number of unhealthy migrants also exposes border officials to illnesses, such as chicken pox, measles, mumps, strep throat, scabies, tuberculosis, and H1N1 (swine flu).
Consequently, noted McAleenan, they’re spending time in hospitals instead of patrolling the border. The understaffed and underfunded southern US border is no more than a patchwork attempt at preventive medicine. Contrast this catastrophe-in-waiting with respective US government agencies’ declared commitment to protecting the health of American citizens and non-citizens.
According to the CDC website, the “CDC works with immigrant, refugee, and migrant groups to improve their health by tracking and reporting disease in these populations.” We are assured, “The Department of State works… to minimize the risk of infectious diseases to US citizens domestically [emphasis added] and abroad.”
Indeed, respective CDC and State Department travel advisories outline the potential dangers Americans face abroad: the spread of Ebola from the Congo into Uganda; the presence of cholera in Yemen; polio in Indonesia and Somalia; rubella in Japan; monkeypox, Lassa fever, and yellow fever in Nigeria; and, since June 10, a global measles outbreak led by Brazil, Israel, Japan, the Philippines, and Ukraine.
On June 17, the CDC strongly advised Americans headed to Europe this summer to receive measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccinations. In addition to a very large Latin American influx, migrants from Africa and Asia continue to arrive in the US from the countries listed above, and at rates higher than previous years. The first week of June alone saw 300 Congolese and Angolans arrive in San Antonio, Texas, before quickly dispersing across the country.
Yet, American politicians haven’t warned the public about the potential risk carried by the tens of thousands of untested migrants spread nationwide. If only a small fraction of new migrants has been exposed to any one of a host of infectious diseases, the consequences still may be dire.
Nevertheless, leading American institutions exhibit schizophrenia on this topic. They encourage extreme caution among Americans abroad while, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you” is the operational motto at home.
Back in America, a disquieting politically correct silence contrasts with the announcement that the CDC will initiate an emergency operations center in an effort to combat the Congo’s Ebola outbreak. It also contrasts with the American government’s push back against the spread of vaccine misinformation. For example, the CDC says the best way to prevent mumps is with the MMR vaccine, which is 88 percent effective.
This appropriate public education dovetails with public opinion. A Pew Research Center study, for example, found 82 percent of Americans agree that, “healthy children should be required to be vaccinated to attend school because of potential health risk to others.”
In that vein, perhaps American political leaders should prescribe a national vaccination programme to combat the health threats fueled by a porous border? Such a candid, responsible, and science-based approach would sit well with Americans who shouldn’t have to leave their own country to hear some medical home truths.
Patrick Basham directs the Democracy Institute and is a Cato Institute adjunct scholar.

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