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Politicians Blame Immigrants While Cutting Ebola Vaccine Spending. By Roger Algase

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In the wake of the spread of Ebola to a second patient in Texas, politicians in both parties are calling for increased screenings at airports in both the US and Africa to try to prevent infected people from entering the US. While no one can dispute the need to take all possible medical precautions to prevent this deadly disease from spreading in America, some politicians are losing no time in using Ebola-related fears as a pretext for advocating measures which appear to have more in common with an anti-immigrant agenda than with protection of public health.

At the same time, calling for harsher measures against immigrants who are at little or no risk of exposure to this disease is also helping to cover up Congressional failure to provide sufficient funding for research which might have led to a vaccine that could have stopped the ebola epidemic in three West African countries in its tracks.

The Hill reports on October 10 that three Texas politicians, Senator John Cornyn (R) and Reps. Michael McCaul (R) and Kay Granger (R), have called for stronger Ebola screenings at airports in Dallas and Houston, in addition to the ones which the Obama administration has announced for airports in New York, Chicago, and Atlanta. No one can argue with that.

But, according to the same report (Texas Republicans call for tougher Ebola screenings), these lawmakers are also asking for tighter security along the Mexican border, despite the fact that there has not been a single case of Ebola reported in Central America (or anywhere else in the entire Western Hemisphere outside of the US).

Of course it is always possible that someone with the disease could come across into the US from Mexico, just as a group of ISIS militants in black uniforms might also conceivably do so, as some politicians have also warned. But the chances of either of these happening, at least at this stage, are entirely theoretical. One has to ask whether either public health or national security are really the main concerns of politicians who are always clamoring for more "border security" under any and all circumstances.

The Hill also reports that one of the above Representatives, Michael McCaul, has advocated suspending US visas entirely from the three most affected West African countries (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone) regardless of the actual health risk or history of the people involved. See McCaul eyes suspension of visas from West Africa, October 10. Texas Senator Ted Cruz has also reportedly called for a similar travel ban.

While there have been over 8,000 reported cases of Ebola in these three countries (the real total may admittedly be higher), this is out of a total population of 20 million people for the three countries combined. Moreover, the disease is reportedly concentrated in only certain areas of each of the three countries. Again, even though banning visas from three entire countries in West Africa at the source of the epidemic may have more to do with preventing health risks than closing the Mexican border, one still has to ask whether protecting America's public health is the primary concern in such a drastic proposal.

Stoking anti-immigrant fears also helps to divert attention away from the shocking failure of Congress over the past more than a decade to provide sufficient funding for Ebola vaccine research.

The Huffington Post quotes Francis Collins, Head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as follows (see Ebola Vaccine Would Likely Have Been Found If Not For Budget Cuts: NIH Director, October 12):

"NIH has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001...Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would've gone though clinical trials and would have been ready."

The Huffington Post continues:

"The growing severity of the Ebola crisis in West Africa and the fear of and outbreak in America haven't loosened the purse strings. NIH hasn't received any additional money...

Collins said he'd like Congress to pass emergency supplemental appropriations to help with the work. But, he added, 'nobody seems enthusiastic about that.'"

This is not the first time in our history that politicians have tried to blame immigrants for the failures of America's own leaders by proposing to cut visas and impose greater legal restrictions on entry. Nor should we expect it to be the last.
Roger Algase is a New York lawyer and a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. For more than 30 years, he has been helping employment-based and family-based immigrants from many parts of the world overcome the obstacles of our convoluted immigration system and achieve their goals of living and working in America. His email is

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Updated 10-15-2014 at 03:14 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs

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