Pennsylvania Congressman John Joyce takes back claims of tuberculosis-infected migrants crossing border
U.S. Rep. John Joyce, a Blair County Republican, is walking back his assertion that 12 cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis were being treated last week among migrants who had crossed the Mexican border and sought asylum in Yuma, Ariz.
The freshman Congressman’s about-face came after a spokesman for the Yuma County Health Department on Tuesday said there were no cases of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis there — nor had there been any in the last six to seven years. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were only 123 cases of the highly contagious, hard-to-treat bacterial disease in the entire U.S. in 2017.
Joyce, a physician who was elected last fall, delivered news of the alleged disease outbreak during an April 17 call with reporters after returning from a tour of the Arizona-Mexico border with a contingent of GOP lawmakers.
The tour was eye-opening proof of the humanitarian crisis at the border, Joyce said. He referenced the alleged tuberculosis outbreak among other issues involving the growing stream of migrants in the border town and called for immediate congressional action to close loopholes in U.S. immigration law and fund a border wall.
Joyce spokesman Andrew Romeo said his boss got the information about tuberculosis cases from Jonathan Lines — an Arizona businessman who sits on the Arizona-Mexico Commission and who served as chairman of the Arizona Republican State Committee until this year.
Romeo referenced the transcript of a since-deleted Facebook video of Lines saying he had been given that information from Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot and that the CDC and the Yuma County Health Department were trying to determine what steps to take.
Wilmot was not available for comment, but a spokeswoman in his office said the information did not originate there.
Lines told the Tribune-Review he received that information from Wilmot, who said it was provided in a briefing from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Border Patrol officials at the Southwestern Border Sheriffs’ Coalition conference this month in Del Rio, Texas.
“(Wilmot) gave me permission to share that,” Lines said Tuesday.
Romeo said Joyce “had no reason to suspect he was being mislead or given inaccurate information” and has since taken down the April 16 video of Lines.
In his press call last week, Joyce also said a child who had crossed the border at Yuma was diagnosed with measles.
Kevin Tunell, a spokesman for the Yuma County Health Department, said Border Patrol did report a migrant child with a suspected case of measles had been taken to the hospital. He said they neglected to use the word “suspected” in their initial report but issued a corrected report when tests came back negative.
“Regarding the measles situation, Congressman Joyce was merely conveying information provided to him by Border Patrol officials. He had no reason to believe they were misleading him or providing him with inaccurate information,” Romeo said.
The health department has specific guidelines in place in the event a real disease outbreak occurs, Tunell said.
“We already have protocols in place with CDC about how we’re going to respond and how I’m just going to get information out to the public,” he said.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .