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Reports of diseased immigrant children mirror Nazi propaganda

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The surge of refugee immigrant children to America’s southern border has ignited a vehement anti-immigrant tone in reporting by many independent news organizations and bloggers. In an effort to create justification for the deportation of these children without granting refugee status, many of these reporters are echoing propaganda tactics eerily reminiscent of the Nazi campaign against European Jews during World War II.

The techniques used by today’s reporters and bloggers include not-so-subtle characterizations of the children, including the repeated use of the term “illegal alien” over “refugee” or “undocumented immigrant,” which is the far more correct legal designation. The loaded term “illegal alien,” and the often-unfounded implications it carries, is the reason why respected news organizations like Associated Press no longer use the term in general.

A far more insidious technique employed by writers in anti-immigrant press, however, takes a page out of the Nazi propaganda handbook. It involves using legitimate examples of sick immigrant children with various ailments, some serious, and depicting it as far more widespread and dangerous than it actually is.

The website GOPTheDailyDose ran a story titled “TB Outbreak in Sacramento School Is America’s Future Thanks To Obama’s Open Borders” on July 3. It blames a tuberculosis outbreak in a Sacramento school on immigrants, and attempts to link it to the child refugees held at the border. The inflammatory headline was widely shared on social media, but it is not even remotely true. The student responsible for the TB outbreak was not an immigrant, and had no connection to the refugee children. The outbreak actually began in February, long before the border crisis started. While the source of the tuberculosis is still not known, it should be noted that TB vaccines are widely used in Mexico and Central America, but are not given in the United States. TB in the U.S. tends to originate from Southeast Asia, not Central America as the article suggests.

Breitbart News has also jumped on the “diseased children” bandwagon, running a story on July 2 by Kristen Tate (who has been responsible for a number of anti-child immigrant stories on the site) who cited an “unnamed source” that claimed the children were riddled with diseases. While scabies is mentioned, the report included as part of the “epidemic” a number of illnesses common in most American classrooms, including lice, strep, sore throats, and coughs.

WND published a piece by Elizabeth Lee Vliet warning of not just TB but malaria, dengue fever, and Chagas disease, which very rarely are transmitted person to person. Malaria and dengue are transmitted by certain types of mosquito that aren't often found in the U.S., except for dengue in Puerto Rico, and a few cases of malaria in the Rio Grande valley. Chagas is transmitted by a certain type of bug that only exists in the tropics and sub-tropics, and rarely transmitted person to person except by blood transfusion, organ transplant, etc. These diseases sound scary because they're unfamiliar to most Americans, but fear of these diseases is completely blown out of proportion as part of anti-immigrant fear mongering.

The Daily Beast reported two child immigrants were sick with H1N1 swine flu, without mentioning H1N1 swine flu is already the predominant strain of flu in the U.S.: Latino Rebels correctly pointed out millions of Americans have already had H1N1 swine flu.

Some bloggers have resorted to publishing graphic pictures of the effects of extreme communicable diseases with stories of sickness among child refugees. In most cases, the diseases depicted do not match the reports of lice and scabies. One blogger posted graphic photos of an arm covered with boils and lesions and tried to characterize it as a sickness among the border children. It was later revealed to be a picture of a Middle Eastern person who suffered the effects of a chemical attack.

The “filthy, disease-ridden immigrant” stereotype isn't particularly new, and while this hysteria over a case of lice may be tearing up social media, its inspiration in Nazi propaganda seems to escape the recollection of those engaging in it. The mere idea that both anti-immigrant stories and Nazi propaganda used identical tactics of lice infestation to demonize their targets should give modern writers pause.

Joseph Goebbels, the minister of propaganda for the Third Reich during World War II, waged a campaign to dehumanize Jews in their occupied lands, to ultimately justify their isolation, incarceration, and eventual extermination. That included spreading the idea that Jews carried dangerous diseases. “A recurrent theme in Nazi antisemitic propaganda was that Jews spread diseases,” the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum stated in an online educational essay about the Nazi propaganda machine. It stated that the Nazis would use reports of sickness or outbreak to justify isolating Jews in ghettos and ultimately disposing of them. A Nazi propaganda poster distributed in 1941 (and included here) depicts a grotesque skull face and states (in Polish) “Jews are lice, They cause typhus.” It is one of many posters the Nazis used to instill fear and animosity towards Jews over the threat of disease.

In most cases, the stories circulated by Breitbart and other anti-refugee websites provide few details of actual cases, and relies on speculation that these children, though confined and receiving medical treatment, would unleash a plague on the United States. This speculation has become a mantra for protesters who blocked a bus transporting refugee children in Murrieta, California. Anti-immigrant activist Patrice Lynes, who led the protest, echoed the “diseased children” claim and demanded the refugees be sent back to their home countries without an asylum hearing. This insistence comes even though many of the refugees qualify for asylum under U.S. law.

It’s 1941 all over again.

Bob Quasius of The Cafe con Leche Republicans also contributed to this piece.

Victor Medina writes for his political blog WhenLiberalsAttack.com. His other writing credits include The Dallas Morning News, Yahoo News, and SportsIllustrated.com. He has served as a Dallas County election judge and on the Board of Directors of The Sixth Floor Museum. You can follow him on his blog, VictorMedina.com or on Twitter at @mrvictormedina. He can be reached by email at vic@victormedina.com. Click here to receive a weekly email update from WhenLiberalsAttack.com. To be notified of future stories by Victor Medina, click the SUBSCRIBE link here or at the top of this page.

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