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Immigration News

Texas State Rep. Claims Immigrants Bring the Plague and Polio to His State

In a recent interview with The Texas Tribune, State Representative Leo Berman (R-Tyler) flat out blamed undocumented immigrants for bringing tuberculosis, malaria, polio, leprosy, and the plague into Texas.

Despite Rep. Berman’s claims however, it is rather difficult to prove such claims as for the majority of the diseases he listed, it is impossible to determine the number of undocumented immigrants with the diseases.

Monitoring the rates of these diseases is the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), which does not specify the immigration status of those with the diseases, but while tracking the migration by way of its carrier, may learn whether or not the person was born outside of the U.S.. Still, this does not provide information on the legality of the person’s immigration.

As for Berman’s claims that undocumented immigrants are bringing all these diseases to Texas, the facts stand as follows:

    • Of the 1,501 cases of tuberculosis reported in Texas, 798 of the patients were foreign born. DSHS tracks cases of TB separately than the number of cases that occur while individuals are in ICE custody.
      - In 2009, that number was 57. The likely total number of undocumented immigrants with TB in Texas in 2009 was between 57 and 798, though the exact number is unknown.

    • In 2010, there were 26 new cases of Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) in Texas, with 38 percent of the cases were foreign-born patients.
      - This number however, includes both documented and undocumented immigrants, and even naturalized citizens.

    • Malaria has had a reported 970 cases in Texas between 2000-20009, and the DSHS said that the vast majority of those cases were a result of exposure to infected mosquitoes while visiting areas like India, the Philippines, and sub-Sahara Africa where malaria is endemic.

Rep. Berman also tried to pin undocumented immigrants’ arrival to the cases of polio and the plague in Texas. Claims The Texas Tribune called “verifiably erroneous” as the only case of polio in Texas was a result of a person being exposed to the virus while visiting another country, with the last reported case of polio contracted in the U.S. in 1979.

As for the plague, there was only one case reported in Texas from 2000 to 2009, and that was in 2006, when an individual was exposed to an infected flea while hunting in New Mexico.