A new study published Thursday in The Lancet, one of the world's preeminent medical journals, makes clear the increasingly familiar attacks used by right-wingers worldwide to dehumanize migrants and refugees by describing them as disease-infested is a xenophobic slur rooted in racism and hate, not facts or the science of public health.
The two-year analysis by two dozen experts at universities including Johns Hopkins and Columbia found that international migrants are less likely than people born in their new countries to die of conditions including heart disease, cancer, respiratory illnesses, and others.
The notion that immigrants like the small group of asylum-seekers who traveled from Central American countries to the U.S.-Mexico border recently are unhealthy and will bring disease into the U.S. "is a false argument that is used to keep migrants out," one of the study's authors, Dr. Paul Spiegel of the Center for Humanitarian Health at Johns Hopkins, told NBC News.
If you are willing to let facts lead your thinking (instead of the other way around), consider that science tells us that migrants don't, in fact, bring disease. https://t.co/TKVWytGdE6
— Barbara Boxer (@BarbaraBoxer) December 6, 2018
The report, published in the Lancet on Wednesday, follows a number of xenophobic, fear-mongering segments on Fox News in which media personalities—after spending weeks claiming that the group of refugees was made up of criminals—resorted to a new tactic, dubbing the group a "caravan of diseases"—provoking outrage but not surprise on social media.
— Talking Points Memo (@TPM) December 4, 2018
Fox & Friends’ is now warning that the caravan will spread disease to Americans: “More than 60% of the people here are suffering from respiratory infections, and we know of known cases of tuberculosis, as well as HIV, AIDS, and Chickenpox. Lice is widespread.” pic.twitter.com/bV2kccxlhY
— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) November 29, 2018
'Foreigners bring disease' is a cornerstone trope in white nationalist propaganda, and the most popular cable morning show is showing it to millions, including the reactionary racist president. It's unusual and very telling that the hosts offered no commentary after this report.
— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) November 29, 2018
The plague swept across Europe in the mid-14th century, Jews were wrongly blamed leading to the massacre of thousands of Jews. The migrant caravan is not bringing disease.@FoxNews, you are the disease!
— stacey roberts (@1sroberts) October 29, 2018
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Ironically, President Donald Trump's immigration policies may contribute to poor health among the migrants whose right to claim asylum in the U.S. he has aggressively attacked. Immigrants who enter into a society with diseases are likely to have become ill in refugee camps or detention centers they're forced into upon arrival, like the more than 200 centers immigrants are currently being held in the U.S., Spiegel noted.
"It's not migrants or migration itself that is spreading disease," he told NBC. "It may be the situations that they are in and the lack of access to basic care that may exacerbate the situation."
In the following video, Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, and Ibrahim Abubakar, chair of the commission behind the study, detail some of its main findings:
Immigrants' health can also be negatively effected by policies like Trump's proposal to reject immigrants who apply for legal permanent residence, or green cards, if they have used programs including Medicaid, SNAP, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or other assistance.
"Forgoing care can exacerbate medical conditions leading to sicker patients and a higher reliance on hospital emergency departments," American Hospital Association president Rick Pollack told NBC.
The Lancet report coincides with a study by the American Medical Association (AMA) which detailed the contributions immigrants have made to the U.S. healthcare system. As NBC reported:
Sixteen percent of healthcare workers in the U.S. were born somewhere else, including 29 percent of physicians, 16 percent of registered, nurses 20 percent of pharmacists, 24 percent of dentists and 23 percent of nursing, psychiatric and home health aides.
The populist exploitation of public fears about migration has led to rising levels of nationalism, xenophobia, and hate crimes," Lancet editor Richard Horton said. "The purpose of this commission is to bring the subject of discussion about migration down to people, back to people's health and their wellbeing. That's the issue we should be concerned about: solidarity between peoples."