As we speak, a ‘caravan’ of illegal immigrants is making its way north from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. We’re waiting as the immigrants cross Mexico and continue trekking upward to the United States.
In the meantime, Americans are taking sides on issues the caravan is bringing into the spotlight. For instance, what consequences or benefits will come if we staunchly close our borders to illegal immigrants?
From a humanitarian side, should our charity go as far as allowing any person from any country the right of entrance, unannounced and unaccounted for?
These are valid questions needing answers. But Americans do have to consider the medical side of this equation too.
Illegal immigrants pose public health risks that the US cannot ignore.
Medical Requirements for Immigration
America has a process for identifying and deeming inadmissible diseases we don’t want running rampant in our country.
The Immigration and Nationality Act requires that all immigrants undergo health screening, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) oversees the requirements for that screening.
Evaluation isn’t intrusive. According to the CDC, it includes a physical examination, skin tests and X-rays to rule out tuberculosis and a blood test for syphilis.
In addition, immigrants are required to show proof of vaccinations against diseases like polio, pertussis and the rotavirus.
Setting politics aside, we put ourselves at risk for many diseases when we allow immigrants to hop the border and dodge legalization.
Public Health Safety at Risk
Illegal immigration does take its toll on public health safety. For example, one systematic review dug into the relationship between illegal immigrants and their access to health services.
The review showed that illegal immigrants often cannot receive care from US health services because they would need documentation.
Others may not use those services because doing so would draw attention to their undocumented status.
That means scores of HIV and tuberculosis cases may not be getting correct treatment. That fact puts legal citizens and native-born Americans at risk.
The review was published in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health in 2015. (1)
The United States’ ability to identify harmful diseases before migrants enter the country needs to stand strong.
What happens when outsiders bring illnesses unknowingly inside our borders? US health providers and officials must act to alleviate health issues, no matter why they happened or where they come from.
If illegal immigrants bring in communicable diseases like HIV, they burden the US health system.
In addition, open borders could worsen problems we already have. They may even bring in stronger health threats such as the Zika virus.
America has a right to protect itself from those threats.
In another report found in Emerging Infectious Diseases (2), immigrants to developed countries held high tuberculosis rates when coming from countries known for TB.
The report found those rates to be true even though the developed countries had low incidence of TB overall.
The report is old – from 2002 – but still proves a point. Health officials can protect public safety from disease if immigrants go through the proper legal channels.
America is a medley of cultures from all over the world. We welcome people coming from north, south, east or west who want to call this country their home.
But for our own health and safety’s sake, Americans should tread carefully when thinking of opening the immigration door wider than it already is.