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MYTH: Undocumented immigrants bring communicable diseases into the country

Nativists are blaming immigrants for swine flu, while ignoring the fact that the outbreak is spreading worldwide as legal international visitors to Mexico become infected and then return home. A blog post on Immigration Impact details how even Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona is getting in on the act.

Sadly, pinning the blame on immigrants for communicable diseases is nothing new. On April 14, 2005 Lou Dobbs stated that there had been “about 900 cases of leprosy [in the United States] for 40 years,” and that “[t]here have been 7,000 in the past three years.” Dobbs went on to say that “the invasion of illegal aliens is threatening the health of many Americans.”

FACT: The nativists’ favorite health claim, about the frightening disease of leprosy, is false. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “200-250 new cases” of leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, are reported each year.

FACT: In a 2006 report, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the number of reported cases of leprosy in the country “peaked at 361 in 1985 and has declined since 1988.”

FACT: The source for Dobbs’ leprosy claim is the late Madeleine Cosman – an anti-immigration zealot who once publicly stated that “most” Latino immigrant men “molest girls under 12, although some specialize in boys, and some in nuns.”

More mythbusting facts on this issue can be found in Immigration: Getting the Facts Straight, a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 09043065 (posted Apr. 30, 2009)

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