Some advocates of tighter immigration rules are jumping on the swine flu public health emergency to call for the closing of the border with Mexico, including a ban on all air and ground traffic and importation of products.
"The Obama administration's failure to secure our borders against a possible pandemic is putting American lives at risk at a time when days and hours matter," said William Gheen, head of the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, accusing the Obama administration of "treating Mexico like a 51st state, instead of separate nation."
The group also pointed out that Obama does not have a secretary of Health and Human Services -- though that is due to Republican opposition to his nominee, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius -- and has not appointed a surgeon general or head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Obama was playing golf Sunday. Instead, he should have been addressing the nation, securing the borders, and filling the gaps in our government leadership from an emergency command center!" Gheen said. "He refuses to send troops to the border to stop the violence from spilling over or the Mexican flu from crossing into America. Instead we get second tier bureaucrats telling Americans to wash our hands and cover our mouths when we cough like a bunch of 1st grade students."
UPDATE: White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said during his regular briefing that the government response is "in no way" hampered by the absence of a permanent health secretary or CDC chief.
The CDC did say this morning that closer border monitoring has started, with officials asking those crossing the border about their health. There have been more 1,600 swine flu infections and dozens of deaths reported in Mexico.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, plans to start hearings Tuesday on comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for some of those who entered the country illegally.
UPDATE: The National Council of La Raza, the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, today condemned the assertions by groups linking the swine flu outbreak to the immigration issue.
“As an organization that works to improve health outcomes for all Americans, we believe that Americans are right to be concerned about reports of swine flu outbreaks in Mexico, California, New York, and Texas. The administration's declaration of a public health emergency this weekend was a prudent, routine step,” Janet Murguía, NCLR president and CEO, said in a statement.
“Public health experts are unanimous about key measures required in situations like this,” Murguía's statement continued. “If affected individuals are driven underground and deterred from seeking treatment or reporting their illness, it will hamper the authorities' ability to accurately track the disease's progress or develop the most effective vaccines.
“It's unfortunate that certain individuals with an obvious axe to grind are shamelessly exploiting a public health emergency for their own purposes. It's not surprising that some are implying that all immigrants are a threat to our health—that's standard fare on the hate group circuit. Ironically, the very act of attempting to demonize and stigmatize entire groups, and even entire countries, is likely to impede these and other critical steps that the authorities are taking to protect all Americans from the spread of the flu.”
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.