Demonizing Children II

by Dan Quinn

A follow-up on our post about how some on the right are demonizing the children who are fleeing to this country to escape crime, violence and poverty in their Central American countries:

Good, well-meaning people can have honest disagreements about how to deal with the serious challenge of undocumented immigration in this country. But trying to frighten Texans by portraying these children as diseased criminals is vile. Now the Texas Observer explains in more detail than we did why this kind of fear-mongering by right-wingers (including Dan Patrick, the current Republican nominee for Texas lieutenant governor) is repulsive. Excerpt:

The narrative that foreigners bring disease has long been used to stir up anti-immigrant sentiment. In the early 1900s, the immigrant cook Mary Mallon—better known as Typhoid Mary—was imprisoned for life for infecting her wealthy patrons with Salmonella typhii.

In his book The Cholera Years, historian Charles Rosenberg describes how Irish immigrants to New York in the 1830s suffered disproportionately from cholera because they lived in poor and crowded neighborhoods. Instead of working to help them, the medical profession blamed the disease on immigrants being “exceedingly dirty.” Irish people were refused medical care, and many “wandered starved and half naked across the Canadian border.”

When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, the Latino men who came to work rebuilding the city were accused of spreading infectious diseases such as chlamydia and HIV.

The targeting of vulnerable outsiders whenever disease breaks out is even older than this country. Historian Barbara Tuchman has described how outbreaks of plague in Europe would lead to pogroms. The lynchings of Jews, she writes “began in 1348 on the heels of the first plague deaths.” When we blame immigrants for infectious disease, we participate in a nasty—and deadly—old tradition.

You can read the full Texas Observer piece here.

 

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