What Does Ebola Have to Do with Immigration? Not Much
Turning on the news, it seems like all that anyone is talking about these days is the Ebola virus. From the news, to our offices, to our conversations amongst friends, we’ve been hearing every day about what symptoms to look for, how to safeguard against it, and how far it might spread. One American man has already died in Dallas, and two are in treatment in Atlanta and Bethesda. To be sure, it’s a deadly, scary disease, and our world community should be treating this outbreak with extreme caution.
Amidst the fear of an outbreak in America, we’ve been hearing from some news commentators that we need to introduce a travel ban for West Africa; denying visas to anyone traveling from West Africa. This idea has made its way from media circles to popular sentiment, as now two-thirds of Americans support denying entry to people traveling from the affected countries. Given this popularity, the travel ban has now become an easy way for politicians to score points with voters. Both the Republican and Democratic Senate candidates in the hotly-contested races of North Carolina and New Hampshire now favor a travel ban as a way of preventing contact between West Africa to America.
The problem is, the ban is not actually considered an effective way of dealing with the outbreak, according to experts. Instead, it would cut off the countries in need of help: Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, from receiving critical materials to stem infection. There are already safeguards in place to ensure that individuals with Ebola do not get on planes and do not enter the United States, and the domestic infection is due to mistakes made by medical professionals rather than the lack of a travel ban.
Why, then, is there so much outcry for this West African travel ban? Some point to anti-immigration activists, who are using the general climate of concern to stoke fears about people coming into the country through the United States’ “open borders.” They connect President Obama’s unwillingness to deny visas from affected countries to the President’s willingness to “offer amnesty” for undocumented immigrants, even when there is no relationship between Ebola and undocumented immigration.
As Jews, we are troubled by this rhetoric against undocumented immigration and against granting visas to people from affected countries, for it goes against our commandment to welcome the stranger. So too, do we know the humiliation of restricting visas: we painfully remember the quotas on American immigration that restricted German-Jewish immigration in the 1930s and 1940s. We were in need of help then, and found xenophobia blocking our path to freedom. We cannot let fear now block our efforts for a fair immigration system and international health cooperation now.