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How the Ebola Outbreak in Africa, and Other Public Health Concerns, Affect U.S. Immigration Procedures

Ebola_virus_virion.jpgThe outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in west Africa is a serious health crisis that threatens the entire region. The disease is only communicable through contact with infected bodily fluids, and therefore it is not likely to pose a major threat to people in the United States. Despite such reassurances from medical experts, some people have expressed concern regarding immigrants entering the country. Immigration laws and regulations allow officials to deny entry to people who have certain specified diseases, including EVD, or who lack certain vaccinations. Airlines are also permitted to deny service to people who have communicable diseases that appear to pose a threat to other passengers’ safety. The federal government has announced measures to assist people from the countries affected by the outbreak who are already in the U.S.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), EVD first appeared in two simultaneous outbreaks in Africa in 1976. EVD causes a hemorrhagic fever with a mortality rate of up to 90 percent. It can only be transmitted from one person to another by contact with infected bodily fluids, such as saliva or blood. The WHO declared the current outbreak to be an international public health emergency in early August 2014. Cases have been reported in at least three west African nations: Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. The death toll exceeded 1,400 by the end of August.

In response to the outbreak, many countries have closed their borders or restricted access to people from affected countries. This has met with criticism from health organizations, who say that this is making the situation worse. Direct assistance from the U.S. has been sparse, but immigration authorities are offering some relief to people from these countries who are already in the U.S. This includes extensions of nonimmigrant visas, deferrals of deportation proceedings, and expedited approval of work authorizations and petitions for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. These measures make it easier for people from these countries to stay here and support themselves and their families.

U.S. immigration law already has provisions for EVD and other diseases. An alien is deemed inadmissible if he or she is found to have a “communicable disease of public health significance.” 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(1)(A)(i). Federal health regulations place several sexually transmitted diseases and active tuberculosis in this category, along with any diseases designated by executive order. 42 C.F.R. § 34.2(b). President George W. Bush declared EVD to be a communicable disease of public health significance in Executive Order 13295, issued on April 4, 2003.

Federal immigration authorities may detain immigrants arriving at a U.S. port of entry to conduct a physical examination. 8 U.S.C. § 1222. Anyone found to have EVD or another disease on the list may be denied entry to the U.S. Additionally, airlines are permitted to refuse to transport a person who they believe “poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others” because of a communicable disease. 14 C.F.R. § 382.51.

Immigration lawyer Samuel C. Berger practices in the New York and New Jersey areas, representing individuals who wish to immigrate to this region, family members seeking to bring a loved one here, and employers who want to hire talent from abroad. We advise families and businesses on how to help immigrants come here, and we help immigrants obtain visas and green cards. To schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our legal team, please contact us today online or at (212) 380-8117.

More Blog Posts:

How Immigration Laws Regarding Refugees and Asylum Relate to the Situation at the U.S.-Mexico Border, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, July 9, 2014
Impact of the Federal Government Shutdown on Immigration Services, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, October 3, 2013
Benefits of Immigration Reform to New Jersey’s Economy, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, July 11, 2013
Photo credit: By CDC/Cynthia Goldsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.