By Jose Miguel Leyva
McClatchy Washington Bureau
Republican claims that Ebola could slip into the United States through Mexico are completely unfounded.
Former Massachusetts senator and current New Hampshire senatorial candidate Scott Brown recently made such an assertion.
“One of the reasons why I’ve been so adamant about closing our border, because if people are coming through normal channels _ can you imagine what they can do through our porous borders?” Brown said in a radio interview.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and North Carolina GOP senatorial candidate Thom
Tillis have expressed similar sentiments. Tillis actually demanded in a recent debate that the U.S.-Mexico border be sealed. And Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, has opined that the Ebola outbreak may not be a completely bad thing, since undocumented immigrants will be terrified to cross the border with infected Africans.
But such notions have no basis in fact. There’s never been an outbreak of Ebola in Latin America. And there have been no reports of Africans sick with Ebola attempting to enter the United States via Mexico. Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, responded at a congressional hearing, “That is not happening,” when asked about the probability of Ebola reaching the United States through its southern neighbor.
The fear-mongering by Republicans is not surprising.
After a summer in which any and every possible contagious disease was purported to be carried into the United States by innocent child refugees, GOP scare tactics show no signs of stopping. So, last month, it was Islamic State terrorists that threatened to come rampaging through our southern border, with border state politicians such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., stirring up this idea. Now it’s Ebola.
For those of us on the border, none of this is new. Mexicans and other Latin Americans have long dealt with being the targets of unfounded fears. Mexican laborers and housekeepers crossing into El Paso 100 years ago were often stripped nude, subjected to chemical sprays or doused in gasoline to prevent disease-
carrying lice from crossing over. Well into the 1950s, these laborers were exposed to dangerous chemicals like DDT in a ludicrous effort to prevent disease.
The linking of immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border with frightening diseases is just a continuation of a worldview in which Latinos are seen as unclean. This is the reason that conservative politicians and media outlets have found it so easy to link immigrants to epidemics such as Ebola.
Until we all learn to recognize that the racialization of disease undermines efforts to deal with the reality we face, right-wingers will continue to use divisive tactics. As responsible citizens, it is our duty to stand up to these reckless claims and demand that our politicians act on fact, not fear.