The Migrant Caravan and Public Health

In the past, FAIR has pointed out there is often a direct link between mass migration and the outbreak of disease.  As we noted, “When people live in areas lacking basic sanitation and medical care, diseases will take root and spread rapidly. This is neither an expression of xenophobia, nor an excuse to exclude migrants as ‘carriers of disease.’ The need to control infectious disease is a simple fact of human biology.”

Anyone with a basic knowledge of science should understand that communicable diseases can be spread by any number of hosts, including animals, people, and agricultural products. That’s why U.S. Customs and Border Protection employs Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) inspectors at all U.S. ports of entry. It’s also why, during 2015-2016 Ebola outbreak, the U.S. Public Health Service and Centers for Disease Control conducted enhanced virus screening at five major airports receiving flights from Africa.

Nevertheless, mainstream media outlets have tended to avoid any discussion of the connection between migration and public health. And trendy, online pundit-factories have dismissed hard science in favor of virtue-signaling. Wired has called any mention of a connection between migrants and communicable disease, “a classic xenophobic move.” Approximately one month ago, Vox confidently stated that the migrant caravan won’t spread disease because suggesting a link between immigrants and public health concerns is “xenophobic nonsense.”

It turns out that Vox should probably stick to it’s standard fare, which consists of hard-hitting pieces like, “Victoria’s Secret Has A New App, Designed to Build a Nationwide Sorority Around Buying Underwear.” (Sarcasm intended.) Fox News has now reported that one-third of the migrants in the caravan currently massed on our southern border are being treated by Tijuana authorities for health issues ranging from lice infestation to Tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis is a significant public health threat. According to the CDC, “70.1 percent of reported tuberculosis cases in the United States occurred among non-U.S.-born persons.” And, the U.S. has already experienced outbreaks tied to refugee admissions. Between 2010 and 2014, Minnesota experienced an outbreak involving nearly 300 refugees.

Federal law bars refugees with active tuberculosis from being admitted to the United States. However, the Department of Homeland Security regularly – and irresponsibly – grants waivers to infected refugees. Despite the fact that applicants for political asylum must meet the same legal standards as refugees, asylees aren’t required to undergo any medical screening. If any caravan members are granted asylum, they’ll be admitted to the U.S. without any objective assessment of the public health threats they might pose.

Those threats are just one more reason why the Trump administration should not allow itself to be bullied into admitting large numbers of the caravan members. Uncontrolled mass migration always leads to bad policy decisions. And in the end the American public winds up bearing the burden of those flawed choices.

8 U.S. Code §1182(f) permits the president to impose conditions on the admission of aliens in order to protect the people and interests of the United States. The president should use that power and insist on rigorous medical screening for any caravan members who are ultimately admitted to the United States. The health of our nation may depend on it.

About Author


Matthew J. O’Brien joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2016. Matt is responsible for managing FAIR’s research activities. He also writes content for FAIR’s website and publications. Over the past twenty years he has held a wide variety of positions focusing on immigration issues, both in government and in the private sector. Immediately prior to joining FAIR Matt served as the Chief of the National Security Division (NSD) within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where he was responsible for formulating and implementing procedures to protect the legal immigration system from terrorists, foreign intelligence operatives, and other national security threats. He has also held positions as the Chief of the FDNS Policy and Program Development Unit, as the Chief of the FDNS EB-5 Division, as Assistant Chief Counsel with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a Senior Advisor to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, and as a District Adjudications Officer with the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. In addition, Matt has extensive experience as a private bar attorney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law.


  1. avatar
    Stephen Russell on

    Damn caravan is a Health hazard alone: TB etc & other diseases we eradicated Decades ago within ranks.
    NO stay put, Mexico better quarantine the whole lot.
    Dont need this in the US

  2. avatar

    If E-verify isn’t passed by Congress then the PUBLIC should start reporting ILLEGAL employees THEMSELVES!!!..TO ICE to raid these employers!!!!