Friday, October 10, 2014
People in the United States are alarmed that an African infected with the Ebola virus, Thomas Eric Duncan, managed to pass U.S. immigration without detainment or quarantine. Unknowingly to Duncan, he had contracted the virus in Liberia and died in the United States from the disease. His temperature was taken both at his departure gate in Monrovia, Liberia and the arriving gate in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas but what is disturbing for most Americans is that he marked ‘No’ on a screening questionnaire as to whether he had been in contact with patients, alive or dead, diagnosed with Ebola or showing symptoms of the disease. Symptoms include fever, diarrhea and vomiting. After five days of his arrival to the United States, he showed these symptoms and regressed to the point of kidney failure before dying two weeks after arriving in the United States.
Why did Duncan fail to admit on his questionnaire that he had helped an Ebola infected patient in Paynesville City, just outside of Monrovia, days before his flight to the United States? Well, Duncan’s passing makes all theories speculative at this point, but those who have worked with African immigrants in Europe and North America know that absolute transparency with immigration officials brings difficulties, foils plans regarding visiting family or work opportunities and can lead to detainment and worse, deportation. Western immigration protocols do not create an atmosphere where individuals coming from developing nations are at ease to honestly discuss their health, their financial means or their plans when arriving to a wealthier country. And because of this, many coming from poorer nations do their best to omit details that will cause problems at the immigration gate or even lie in order to receive entry into the country.
Duncan came to Dallas to visit family: his son and the mother of his son. It is safe to assume he did not wish to harm them nor anyone he came into contact with on his travels to the United States. But the risk he took in helping a neighbor in Liberia who contracted Ebola cost him his life, and now has Americans in a panic regarding those he came into contact with and the current screening of people coming from West Africa. It is very likely West Africans, and others coming from the developing world, will be confronted with a more suspicious immigration control and as I argue, pushed to conceal any information that will raise alarms to authorities. It is the systematic discrimination by Western immigration controls, that made liars out of visitors and immigrants from developing nations long before the Ebola virus became a threat.