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Untested migrants risk American lives

By Patrick Basham - posted Tuesday, 2 July 2019

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.

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About the Author

Patrick Basham directs the Democracy Institute and is a Cato Institute adjunct scholar.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Patrick Basham

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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