Nativist commentators and activists have wasted no time in pinning the blame for the current outbreak of swine flu in the United States on the same target they usually choose when assigning responsibility for any social, economic, political, or natural disaster: immigrants—especially undocumented immigrants. Following in the footsteps of Lou Dobbs, who in 2007 made the ludicrous claim that undocumented immigrants were importing leprosy into the country, anti-immigrant commentators such as Michelle Malkin and Glenn Beck are now claiming without a shred of evidence that undocumented immigrants from Mexico are importing swine flu.

Even Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona is getting in on the act. Having turned his police department into a local immigration-enforcement agency devoted more to tracking down undocumented workers than actually fighting crime, Arpaio is now portraying himself as a defender of public health; readying his jail for a “potential outbreak” of swine flu, and outfitting his deputies with “hundreds of protective gear kits” in the event they encounter an undocumented swine-flu carrier in the desert.

In reality, of course, the outbreak of swine flu is spreading worldwide as legal international visitors to Mexico become infected and then return home, which is why it is appearing in countries such as New Zealand, Germany, and Israel that aren’t exactly hotbeds of undocumented immigration from Mexico. However, the “blame immigrants” mentality of nativist pundits and activists has always been rooted more in ideology and anecdote rather than evidence and logic, which is why it tends to be immune to facts. For instance, nativists are forever blaming immigrants for crime in the United States, even though countless studies over the past hundred years have amply demonstrated that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be in prison than the native-born. During the past couple of years, hard-line stalwarts of the nativist movement have also blamed immigrants for the collapse of the mortgage market, the deterioration of the nation’s infrastructure, and even global warming—accusations which fail to withstand even the slightest empirical scrutiny.

The fact-free, anti-immigrant histrionics of Malkin, Beck, and Arpaio might be dismissed as nothing more than hot air emanating from the nativist fringe if not for the fact that their rhetoric feeds a climate of paranoia and hate that has very real consequences. The number of hate groups in the United States now stands at 926—an increase of 50% since 2000. Anti-Latino hate crimes are up 40% since 2003, according to FBI statistics. Half of all Latinos believe that the situation of Latinos in this country worsened between 2007 and 2008, according to a survey by the Pew Hispanic Center. With Congress and the White House once again poised to tackle comprehensive immigration reform, now is the time for a rational discussion of immigration—not irrational tirades in which immigrants are blamed for the flu, the recession, potholes, and rising sea levels.

Photo by Dr Craig.