Americans Are The Dangerous, Disease-Carrying Foreigners NowRoundup
tags: racism, immigration, Xenophobia, COVID-19
Erika Lee is the author of America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States and director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota.
It’s the height of the summer travel season, and visitors from 15 countries can now visit the European Union again after pandemic-related shutdowns were lifted. But not Americans. We’re banned. Citing coronavirus concerns, the E.U. did not include the United States, which has had more coronavirus deaths and infections than any other country, on a recent list of approved nations.
Being barred from another country is not something that Americans are familiar with. For centuries, we have been the ones demonizing foreigners as carriers of infectious disease. And we have been the ones banning immigrants in the name of protecting Americans’ public health. But with coronavirus cases surging in our communities, we must face the hard truth that we are no longer welcome in many places around the world.
This isn’t the way it was supposed to be. Foreigners bring disease to the United States, our politicians have long told us. So if we keep out immigrants, we keep out disease, too. It’s like protecting our borders with those disinfectant wipes that claim to kill 99.9 percent of germs, viruses and bacteria. President Trump clearly believes this. He has repeatedly credited his administration’s Jan. 31 travel ban prohibiting any non-U.S. resident coming from China for saving “millions of U.S. lives.” In February and March, the president justified his preexisting plan for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border “to keep the infection and those carrying the infection from entering our country.”
It’s easy to see why Trump might think this way. After all, our history of tying foreigners to disease has deep roots. In 1793, Germans were blamed for bringing yellow fever, often called the “German flu,” into the country. In Philadelphia, they were quarantined in a “pesthouse” on Province Island. In 1832 and 1849, the Irish were tied to cholera outbreaks in New York City. San Francisco public health officials claimed that Chinese immigrants brought numerous dangerous diseases such as smallpox, bubonic plague and leprosy into the country. Tuberculosis was known as a “Jewish disease.” Newspapers identified Italian immigrants as the source of the polio epidemic that raged along the East Coast during the summer of 1916. Mexicans were described as living in “filth, disease, [and] squalor” and were charged with bringing typhus, plague and smallpox into the United States.
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