That Breitbart Report About Fargo Refugees With Tuberculosis Is Old News


Man Yassin, 47, of Moorhead, Minnesota, protests outside of the Valley News Live offices in Fargo, North Dakota, on Sunday, May 22, 2016. Yassin is a refugee from Iraq who disagrees with Valley News Live's May 16 report which targeted refugees for being a health danger to locals living nearby. "This is our country, too. They've (Valley News Live) no right to say we brought disease," Yassin said. Nick Wagner / The Forum

Over the weekend a number of you readers sent me this link to a Breitbart article which seemed to indicate that Lutheran Social Services, the organization responsible for federal refugee resettlement in our state, had been something less than forthcoming about refugees with tuberculosis.

You’ll all remember that this was something of a big issue back when Valley News Live, a Fargo-based television station, broadcast a hysterical report suggesting that refugees posed a significant public health risk.

Here’s what Breitbart is reporting:

Dr. John Baird, Health Officer for the Fargo Cass Public Health Department in North Dakota, confirms to Breitbart News that the agency, which serves all of Cass County, has diagnosed and treated four refugees with active tuberculosis (TB) between 2012 and 2015.

Baird’s confirmation of active TB among refugees in the Fargo community comes barely a month after a spokesperson for Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota (LSSND), the resettlement agency hired by the federal government to operate the program in North Dakota, denied that any refugees it has resettled in North Dakota have been diagnosed with active TB.

“We have a good working relationship with NDDoH [North Dakota Department of Health], and have not encountered any issues pertaining to active TB disease among refugees,” an LSSND spokesperson told Fargo’s local NBC television affiliate, KVLY, as reported by the station’s Valley News Live program on May 16.

“Based on Dr. Baird’s statement, the LSS statement to Valley News Live in May was factually inaccurate at best, and an intentional deception at worst,” Breitbart News said in an email to LSSND, asking for a comment to explain their statement that they “have not encountered any issues pertaining to active TB disease among refugees.”

I’ve been a sharp critic of LSSND’s handling of refugee resettlement in our area. That said, is exaggerating when they say the organization made a “factually inaccurate” statement. LSSND did not say that all of the refugees they’re resettling are free of tuberculosis. They only said that they’ve had no issues pertaining to active TB disease. And that certainly seems to be the case.

That four refugees, over the course of four years of resettlement, have turned up with active TB isn’t exactly news. A report from the CDC, which was the basis of one of Valley News Live’s yellow journalism reports, indicated that  in 2009 alone North Dakota saw 35 immigrants with diseases (including TB) which triggered a notification through the CDC’s Electronic Disease Notification system.

Those cases caused no significant problems in our state, and wasn’t even a statistic of note before this current anti-refugee craze which seems to be sweeping the country.

Also, in 2015 there were a total of 9 active TB cases in the State of North Dakota. That’s hardly an epidemic.

While it’s true that refugee resettlement is bringing some people with TB into our area, it’s also true that our excellent health systems are handling these few cases appropriately. Because we lack is any indication that a refugee with TB has come to North Dakota and gotten someone else sick. That’s probably because, again, our excellent public and private health systems (including sufficient vaccination) protects us from some a small influx of a disease like TB.

There is nothing at all wrong with being concerned about what diseases refugees might bring with them, and how those diseases might impact our communities. I’d even argue that the federal govenrment, and groups like LSSND, could be doing a much better job of communicating with local communities and leaders about these issues.

But there is something wrong with stoking anti-refugee rage with sensationalized reporting of data which isn’t even news. Organizations like Breitbart and Valley News Live are not looking to inform. They’re looking to offend and outrage, because that’s their business model.

Unfortunately, it has real world ramifications.

Discussion question: How much of this hand-wringing over refugees with TB stems from the fact that there’s probably a strong crossover between the anti-refugee factions in our society and the anti-vaccination crowd?