Despite claims to the contrary from some of the loudest anti-immigration reform voices in the Republican Party, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stressed on Monday that undocumented immigrants are not bringing measles into the United States.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, director for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, dismissed claims tying undocumented immigrants to the recent measles outbreak that has afflicted individual communities and sparked a broader national debate about vaccination policy.
“We don’t have evidence to support that,” Schuchat said during a webinar hosted by the National Press Foundation.
Though there are an estimated 20 million measles cases worldwide every year, only a handful ever reach the U.S., according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Most of the measles cases that do arrive have origins outside the U.S., and are usually carried by Americans returning from trips abroad.
According to the CDC, seven reported cases of measles have been brought to the U.S. from outside the Americas since January.
According to the World Health Organization, 113 countries, including many in Latin America, have higher rates of immunization for 1-year-olds than the United States.
The findings from the CDC contrast the assertions of some Republican lawmakers, who have jumped on news of measles outbreaks to make larger arguments on immigration.
"I don't think there is any health care professional who has examined the facts who could honestly say that Americans have not died because the disease is brought into America by illegal aliens who are not properly health care screened, as lawful immigrants are," Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said. "Unfortunately, our kids just aren't prepared for a lot of the diseases that come in and are borne by illegal aliens."
In response to the CDC's latest presentation, Brooks' office said Monday that the agency could not accurately say that undocumented immigrants didn't bring measles to the U.S. because it has not traced the source of every case in the country.
“It is mind-boggling that the CDC would take a political position that the only people who bring measles to the United States are legal foreigners," Brooks told The Huffington Post. "If you look at their reports, there are lots of cases where they just don’t know what foreigner brought measles into the United States."
Representatives from the CDC said that they don't need to know an outbreak's exact point of origin to know where the disease came from and how it may have reached the U.S.
"Just because we don't know patient zero doesn't mean we don't know the strain," CDC spokeswoman Amy Rowland said. The CDC regularly monitors different diseases and strains to track where they originate.
In her presentation, Schuchat said that in the Disneyland case, it's quite likely that the congressman had it backwards.
“In fact, this outbreak associated with the Disneyland Park? The U.S. exported [the] measles virus to Mexico,” Schuchat said.
Brooks isn't the only Republican to point to undocumented immigrants as a cause of the resurgence of measles. Earlier this month, potential 2016 presidential candidate Ben Carson also implied that such a connection exists.
“We have to account for the fact that we now have people coming into the country, sometimes undocumented people, who perhaps have diseases that we had under control,” Carson told CNN. “So now we need to be doubly vigilant about making sure that we immunize our people to keep them from getting diseases that once were under control.”
Some conservative lawmakers have claimed that undocumented immigrants are to blame for several other disease outbreaks. In his 2015 State of the State address, Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) said that “illegal aliens” brought hepatitis C, HIV and tuberculosis into the state. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) recently warned that the surge of undocumented children over the summer could have exposed Americans to Ebola and tuberculosis.
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