AUSTIN, Texas – Conservative Republicans are trying to tie the widening Ebola scare to the nation’s debate over border security, warning that the threat of Ebola and other infectious diseases increases the need for tougher enforcement and health safeguards along the porous southern border.
After a month of global attention, Ebola is becoming an increasingly hot political topic as Republicans hammer the Obama administration for its handling of the crisis and Democrats accuse GOP politicians of unfounded scare tactics by portraying Ebola as a potential border threat.
Ebola is also shaping up as a priority issue in the upcoming 2015 Texas legislative session that convenes in January. A 17-member task force appointed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry is forging recommendations to toughen the state’s ability to combat the disease, including some that will likely require approval by lawmakers.
“We live in a global world, where infectious diseases are a mere airline ticket away,” task force director Brett Giroir, chief executive of the Texas A&M Health Science Center, said in an email. “These contagions do not heed borders or geographic boundaries, turning an outbreak anywhere into a risk everywhere.”
Texas became the focus of international attention as the site of America’s first Ebola case when Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan was admitted at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas on Sept. 25 and died of the disease on Oct. 8. Two nurses who cared for Duncan were hospitalized.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who has been touted as a potential presidential candidate in 2016, and several Republican political candidates in other states, have called for toughened border safeguards against Ebola after a top U.S. military leader warned that immigrants being smuggled into the United States illegally could bring the disease into the country with them.
“The immediate thing that really keeps me up awake at night, I tell you it’s the Ebola issue,” Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly said in appearance at National Defense University in Washington. As commander of U.S. Southern Command, Kelly oversees U.S. military policy in Latin America.
“There is no way you can keep Ebola in West Africa,” Kelly said, warning that an outbreak in the Caribbean or Central America could send thousands of refugees into the United States to flee the disease or obtain health care in U.S. treatment centers. He also said immigrants from West African countries engulfed by Ebola could be coming into the United States illegally through international human smuggling networks.
Cruz cited Kelly’s warnings of a “mass migration” in criticizing the Obama administration last week on CNN. He said the administration “unfortunately is not acting to protect our southern borders or to restrict commercial airline flights from places with an active outbreak” of Ebola.
Scott Brown, a Republican Senate candidate in New Hampshire, said the border is so porous “anyone can walk across it.”