Originally issued May 1, 2009.

Pax Christi USA, a national Catholic peace movement, offers our deepest condolences to the families of all those who have died from the recent outbreak of swine flu in Mexico, the United States and around the world. We also hold in prayer all those who are suffering from this virus and those who may be vulnerable to infection.

This outbreak reminds us that we are all connected to each other on this planet, that no person or nation is an island unto themselves and that the fate of each person touches every other person. We can no longer think of ourselves as only citizens of the United States. We are members of one human family, made in the image of God.

Unfortunately this global health crisis is also being used by those who reject this vision of the unity of the human family. Right-wing demagogues and opportunistic politicians are using the concerns over the outbreak of swine flu in Mexico as an excuse to continue spreading the racist fear and hatred of immigrants (particularly undocumented immigrants) that was engaged during national debates about immigration reform.

Playing into racist stereotypes by inferring that somehow immigrant peoples are infected and therefore unclean, the purveyors of hate want to close our border with Mexico and expel all undocumented immigrants as part of a broader desire to presumably “purify and cleanse” our nation of all forms of what they consider disease. Inferences making use of stereotypes and code words are meant to reinforce their racist vision of America as a White Nation.

The alarmist reactions from these racial purity demagogues is ironic, given that during the national debate over immigration reform, those who advocated for providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants warned that forcing these populations further into the shadows could pose a dangerous public health risk. They warned that government health-care workers would not be able to reach undocumented workers to have access to the information they need if a public health-care crisis like this outbreak were to occur. They warned us, moreover, that public health-care workers would not be able to treat those who might become infected because undocumented immigrants would not seek help on account of the risk of deportation if their status was discovered and then reported to immigration authorities.

The failure to pass legislation to fix our broken immigration system and give undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship is now costing us dearly. If this flu epidemic spreads across the country, it will be difficult to stop without the full cooperation of the very people upon whom anti-immigrant demagogues are pouring their contempt. Not fixing our immigration system is not only a danger to our public health, it could also sink our economic recession into a full-blown depression.

  • In the short term we call upon our government to immediately suspend all immigration raids and deportations as part of a comprehensive strategy to reach out to all immigrant communities who may be vulnerable to this virus.
  • At the same time we call on President Obama and Congress to move quickly to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in this country, that keeps immigrant families together and that protects the dignity and rights of immigrant workers.
  • Finally, we call on our government to do all it can to provide funding and support to those countries around the world who do not have the resources to combat this global outbreak.
  • We are one human family, made in the image of God and called into solidarity with each other. This health-care crisis comes as our opportunity to begin acting as a single family, working together for the universal common good.

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