The Swine Flu Outbreak and Immigration: News Analysis From Feet in Two Worlds

No face masks anywhere in Mexico City. (Photo: Diego Graglia)

No face masks anywhere in Mexico City. (Photo: Diego Graglia)

By John Rudolph, FI2W Executive Producer

With Mexico presumed to be at the epicenter of the swine flu outbreak and Mexicans comprising one of the largest immigrant groups in the U.S., it didn’t take long for people to start making connections between the flu and immigration. Officials in Dallas and San Diego are reaching out to large Mexican immigrant communities in those cities with advice on how to prevent the possible spread of the disease. According to San Diego station KFMB-TV:

Health officials are concerned about the spread of swine flu from Mexico to the U.S. by illegal immigrants. Migrants in San Diego may not have access to medical care, which could lead to the spread of the virus within those communities.

In another related development, the L.A. Times reports that fear of infection is causing immigrants living north of the border to reconsider returning to or visiting Mexico.

At least one member of Congress, Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) recently called for the complete closure of the U.S.–Mexico border “until the virus is contained.”  Republican congressman Duncan Hunter of California, has called for a U.S. ban on all nonessential travel to Mexico.

Meanwhile, conservative bloggers and commentators are blaming the flu outbreak on “illegal aliens” and using the health threat to advance their call for sealing America’s borders.

And so in addition to legitimate public health concerns (some of them related to immigrants from Mexico), the flu outbreak has spawned a nasty war of words over immigrants and their place in American society. Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin is widely quoted on the Web for her comment, “Hey, maybe we’ll finally get serious about borders now.” Pro-immigrant columnists have responded to Malkin and others with equally blunt language. The headline of a blog post by Bonnie Fuller on Huffington Post screams, “Hate-Mongering Conservative Commentators Using Swine Flu to Promote Racism!”

The flu scare comes just as the Obama administration is ramping up efforts to bring about immigration reform. In addition, on Friday pro-immigrant rallies are planned in cities across the nation to keep pressure on the president and Congress to address the plight of undocumented immigrants.

The vitriolic exchange kicked off by the flu outbreak certainly won’t help efforts to reach a national consensus on immigration policy. It also won’t help anyone who has the flu or is at risk of becoming ill. But could it have an impact on the pace and scope of immigration reform efforts? Maybe. Has it revealed new racial fault lines following Obama’s historic election as the nation’s first African-American president? Perhaps. Do we have any idea where this is all headed? In both medical and political terms the answer to that question unfortunately is no.

AboutJohn Rudolph
John Rudolph, Executive Producer, is a journalist with more than 40 years experience as a public radio program host and producer of documentaries, podcasts and news reports. John produced the award-winning documentary Feet in Two Worlds: Immigrants in a Global City, which was the debut for the Feet in 2 Worlds project.