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NY Magazine: What the False Hysteria Over ‘Diseased’ Migrant Kids Is Really About

July 14, 2014 — 

Erin Buckels, a graduate student in the department of psychology, is again in the news (here’s last time) but this time she is talking about immigration in New York Magazine.

The writer Jesse Singal begins the piece: As a result of an ongoing humanitarian disaster in Central America connected to gang and cartel activity there, there’s been a recent surge in the number of so-called unaccompanied minors being detained at the U.S. border. In Murrieta, California, and other places where the children are being sent temporarily, some Americans are protesting their presence. A common line among some protesters and members of the media — and, unfortunately, even some elected officials — has been that the migrants could be carrying dangerous communicable diseases.

The article then goes into the work of Buckels.

As the article reads:

Erin Buckels, a researcher at the University of Manitoba who has studied this issue, explained in in an email that both her work and a great deal of prior research has “demonstrated a strong and automatic tendency to dehumanize outgroup members, even when we have no prior experience with those groups.” Notions of pollution and infection loom large here: We often “view outsiders with disgust — partly due to the risks of infectious disease that outsiders carried in our evolutionary past — and this causes a conservative shift in our thoughts and attitudes.” So unfamiliar people “are seen as closer to animals than humans, and therefore pose a danger to our bodies (and even our souls).”

The primal, irrational nature of these fears can make it hard to have a substantive conversation, Buckels wrote:

The end result is that it is difficult to think logically about these issues. Our moral intuitions about “purity” drive us toward biased judgments. Even if the modern risk is (logically) minimal, we still react protectively. From this perspective, it is not surprising that people would overreact to the disease threat posed by migrants from another country. Even the language surrounding immigration issues would prompt people to think about threats and disease (e.g., penetrating our borders, draining the system, etc).


To read the article in full, click here.


Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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