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If Health Care Excludes Some Immigrants, Are Quarantines Next?

Created: 25 September, 2009
Updated: 13 September, 2023

New America Media

 South Carolina Rep. Joe “You Lie” Wilson has touched a raw nerve with his outburst during the president’s health care speech. Yet, he may have also opened the proverbial Pandora’s box regarding “illegals” with his accusation that they would get health care under reforms proposed by Pres. Obama. Not dealt with properly by the president and the Democratic Party, Wilson’s incivility could end up unleashing a new and more rabid anti-immigrant movement of the kind seen in Europe.

 Played out to its logical conclusion, this dynamic of not providing health care for undocumented immigrants, in the event of a pandemic, could lead to calls for widespread quarantines and calls for massive dragnet raids, incarceration programs and large-scale deportations. And as occurs now, the inability to distinguish between legal or so-called illegal aliens – with the predisposed belief that all “Mexicans” (Central and South Americans included) are an illegal and illegitimate population – means that all red-brown peoples in this country could be viewed and treated as suspect.

 That aside, germs, viruses and diseases do not discriminate, nor do they ask for legal documentation. They cross borders freely in both directions, and neither walls nor moats can hold them back. This is the perfect example of why health policies should be in the hands of health professionals, not political ideologues.

 In the climate we live in, assuring Americans that only legal residents will be eligible to receive health benefits plays well in the conservative political arena. However, from a health standpoint, it borders on suicidal. People on all sides of the issue should recognize the health implications of keeping 12 million people (or 20 million, according to immigration restrictionists) outside of the nation’s health care system.

 CNN’s Lou Dobbs has made a career of scaring Americans into believing that “illegal aliens” are the cause of all of the nation’s problems. He has even irresponsibly spread lies about them spreading leprosy. Yet, for the sake of argument, suppose Dobbs is correct in his basic premise that migrants (illegal or otherwise) are apt to carry and spread infectious and communicable diseases. The logical response to this threat would be to quarantine, or deport, the 12 to 20 million illegal immigrants instantly.

 Since even the most rabid restrictionists acknowledge that this would be impossible, from a health standpoint, it makes better sense to ensure that all people in the United States have access to preventive health care. This would not solely be for the sake of the migrants, but also for the sake of the entire U.S. population.

 Under President Barack Obama’s health plan, undocumented aliens will be excluded. As it stands now, legal residents who have been in the country for fewer than five years are also denied many health benefits. This backward policy will continue.

 As La Opinión newspaper in Los Angeles recently opined, such a policy is bad health policy and bad economic policy. However, Democrats, more concerned with Wilson’s insult to the president and to Congress, have been blindsided to the extent that they will be forced to adopt or maintain these medically unsound policies. In fact, to prove Wilson wrong, they will be pressured into injecting or advocating militaristic solutions (to search and find undocumented residents) into not simply the health care bill, but probably all future legislation.

 The idea of intentionally excluding anyone from the nation’s health plan is to court a massive disaster. It may lead to the drumbeat demand that beyond employment – public and private – every service rendered by government, from education to housing, must be done so through its E-verify program – a program designed to verify legal residency among job applicants. In rabid times, it could result in an even more radical proposal: a demand to use E-verify for every commercial purpose, including the checkout stand.

 At the immigration kangaroo court called Operation Streamline earlier this year in Tucson, Ariz., I saw the future: because of the swine flu (H1N1) epidemic, like a surreal movie, all of the defendants – who were from Mexico and Central America – wore protective masks in the federal courtroom. In the event of a more severe and deadly pandemic, it is highly likely that our elected leaders and politicians will insist that only U.S. citizens have access to immunization and health care.

 The truth is that only where we permit other human beings to be dehumanized would a society think of denying people the right to basic health care. The other truth is that nowadays we live in a completely globalized world, which necessarily calls for global solutions and global (financial) cooperation.

 It’s a health issue, stupid.