Pa. Rep. Joyce helped elevate false claims migrants in Arizona were carrying tuberculosis. Republicans only have themselves to blame

April 24, 2019 3:56 pm

U.S. Rep. John Joyce, R-13th District, at the U.S. Southern border earlier this month (Facebook photo)

Pennsylvania U.S. Rep. John Joyce’s office made a big deal of his recent inspection tour of the southern border, plugging it on Twitter and blasting out press releases about the trip.

But the 13th District Republican has since had to correct claims made to both the Associated Press and the Tribune-Review last week that there were cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis among the migrants who were picked up by border agents in Yuma County, Ariz.

Joyce’s spokesman, Andrew Romeo, told the Capital-Star Wednesday that the congressman had based his claim on information provided to him by former Arizona GOP state chairman Jonathan Lines, who was the delegation’s guide during its trip to Yuma.

In an email, Romeo said Lines “introduced himself as a board member of the Arizona-Mexico Commission, an organization headed by [Arizona Gov. Doug] Ducey, [that] has a website emphasizing the organization’s commitment to bringing ‘information together to develop meaningful policy and drive impactful programs.'”

Joyce “did not expect to be given bad information by someone in that position, and always wants to be accurate, which is why he was incredibly disappointed to learn there was a problem with Mr. Lines’ information and immediately removed the video of Mr. Lines discussing tuberculosis at the border from his congressional Facebook page,” Romeo said, referring to a since-deleted April 16 video featuring a conversation between Joyce and Lines.

Joyce told the Associated Press and other home state journalists during a conference call that some of the tuberculosis cases were a drug-resistant strain, and that his “concern is what about the person who wasn’t coughing and wasn’t recognized as having tuberculosis, and they didn’t come here for treatment for their disease. They could be released in a day and a half and be sitting at a restaurant [table] beside you.” according to the the Phoenix New Times.

But as the New Times also reports, the Yuma office of the U.S. Border Patrol had “no record of any in-custody migrant carrying a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis for at least seven years, according to spokesperson Justin Kallinger, adding that the relevant data only goes back to 2012.”

“We are mandated by the county to contact them on diseases like drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis,” Kallinger told the New Times. In addition, Yuma County spokesperson Kevin Tunell confirmed to the newspaper “that the county received no such notice from border authorities.”

It’s tempting to believe the claim by Joyce and his handlers that the freshman was simply passing along information from someone he believed to be credible.

That is, until your remember that Republicans have spent the last two-plus years spreading this kind of bigoted nonsense as a way to terrify their base into supporting some pretty hateful and xenophobic policies.

To review, then-candidate Donald Trump kicked off his campaign for the presidency in 2015 by alleging that undocumented immigrants at the southern border were rapists.

Last year, as Trump and his fellow Republicans again tried to scare (white) Americans into voting Republican with the specter of migrant caravans, they upped the ante, falsely accusing them of being terrorists, and carrying such dangerous communicable diseases as smallpox and leprosy.

Roll Call reported Wednesday that “the unfounded rumor of a public health crisis in Yuma follows several viral and misleading stories in conservative media that families seeking asylum from Central America were bringing in dangerous infections. Some of those stories have garnered hundreds of thousands of shares on social media.”

On the home front, Trump and his immigration commandant, Stephen Miller, have taken other administrative actions against the immigrant community.

That includes, as we reported this week, a proposal by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, run by Trump loyalist Ben Carson, to boot undocumented immigrants out of public housing in the name of helping “the most vulnerable” Americans.

In reality, this policy, if eventually implemented, would do nothing to reduce public housing waiting lists that now run to the multiple hundreds of thousands of people. But it would effectively render thousands of native-born children homeless.

So it has that going for it.

It’s also important to remember that Joyce is a Trump loyalist, one who dutifully parroted the White House’s line that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had found “No collusion. No obstruction,” adding that “The case is closed. It’s time to move on.”

Except, of course, Mueller’s report found plenty of evidence of obstruction, and kicked it over to Congress to do something about it.

During his 2018 campaign for the U.S. House, Joyce echoed the administration’s hard line on denying federal funding to “sanctuary cities,” an undefined term that’s commonly applied to municipalities that don’t comply with civil detainer requests from federal immigration authorities.

During February’s government shutdown, he chastised Democrats for “[blocking] any effort to negotiate with President Donald Trump on his multiple immigration compromises,” and accused them of “[opting] to put politics over securing our border and paying federal workers.” This month, he told his hometown Altoona Mirror newspaper that “most asylum claims are not legit.”

So we’ll take Joyce at his word that he was acting in good faith on the information handed to him by a local government official in Arizona. On the other hand, he also had to have some inkling of the impact that his statements would have among his largely rural and Republican constituency.

Joyce’s statements are an unfortunate reminder that Republicans have turned undocumented immigrants into a faceless other to be feared.

And they can’t complain when we take them on their word on that either.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.