Closing Mexico-U.S. Border Still an Option for Fighting Swine Flu, Congresswoman Says

By Penny Starr | April 28, 2009 | 6:44 PM EDT

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) (AP Photo)

( – Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, told that fellow committee member Rep. Eric Massa’s (D-N.Y.) call to seal the border between Mexico and the United States is not necessary yet but is still an option for stopping the spread of the H1N1 virus, or swine flu.
She also said that opening health screening stations on the U.S. Southwest border and other points of entry was a good idea.
“As President Obama said this morning, swine flu is a cause for concern, but not yet a cause for alarm,” Sanchez said on Monday. “The Centers for Disease Control and Department of Homeland Security are taking the appropriate steps to ensure this outbreak does not spread, including establishing health screening stations at our Southwest border and ports of entry.
“These and other precautionary measures—combined with common-sense actions like washing one’s hands and exercising caution—should help ensure the United States experiences only a few isolated cases of swine flu,” said Sanchez.
“Should the situation change, however, we are fully prepared to take whatever action is necessary to protect Americans from this illness, including closing the U.S.-Mexico border,” she said.
On Saturday, Massa called for the “immediate” and “complete” closure of the U.S. border with Mexico until officials in that country can contain the spread of the H1N1 virus, or swine flu.
“The public needs to be aware of the serious threat of swine flu, and we need to close our borders to Mexico immediately and completely until this is resolved,” Massa said in a statement posted on his congressional Web site.
“The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and the WHO (World Health Organization) are monitoring this situation closely and I call on all Americans to pay attention and follow their instructions as this situation develops. I have complete faith in our medical professionals and look forward to a swift conclusion to this problem,” Massa added.
Massa criticized the media for its coverage of the outbreak, which led to U.S. officials declaring it a public health emergency on Sunday.
“I am making this announcement because I see this as a serious threat to the health of the American public and I do not believe this issue is receiving the attention it needs to have in the news,” Massa said.
But Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said at a press conference on Monday that closing the border was not necessary.
“We’re already doing passive surveillance at the border,” Napolitano said. “You would close the border if you thought you could contain the spread of disease, but the disease is already in a number of U.S. states.”
Mexico has been at the epicenter of the swine flu outbreak, with more than 150 deaths there believed to have been caused by the virus and more than 1,500 people becoming ill from it.
So far, cases of the virus have been reported in countries around the world, including New Zealand, Scotland, Canada, Spain and Israel.
In the United States, the CDC has confirmed 64 cases of swine flu, with people in California, Kansas, New York, Ohio and Texas becoming ill.
In a second statement posted on his congressional Web site on Monday, Massa defended his call to close the U.S.-Mexico border, saying he was the first member of Congress “to call for any kind of restrictions” along the border. He also said the public should listen to government officials.
“The H1N1 virus is a cause for concern and I again call on the public to pay attention to the new reports being issued by the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization,” Massa said. “The epicenter of this outbreak is still in Mexico, and while we now have several confirmed cases in the United States, we must consider all options to help reduce the number of new cases entering our nation.
“I’m glad that the White House has issued a travel advisory and is conducting passive screening at the border, but I think we should consider stronger measures at the border,” Massa said. “I am in favor of using all tools available to reduce the spread of swine flu.”