Since October, more than 52,000 unaccompanied children have been taken into custody by U.S. border agents according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The Holy Family Institute’s announcement that it will take in about three dozen of these children has been met mostly with backlash from the Pittsburgh region.
According to Holy Family, the children are under the age of 12, which the institute stated makes up about 20 percent of the migrating children.
“Many of these children are fleeing violent situations and have endured a long and perilous journey,” the institute said in a written statement on its website. “We will provide the children with food, clothing, housing, education, counseling and recreation.”
However, many members of the Emsworth community, where the institute is located, have expressed concerns about the children bringing in disease - specifically measles.
But Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician at UPMC, said that concern is misplaced.
According to him, measles have been eliminated from the Americas since 2002.
“The measles cases we do have are the result of importations from other continents infect people whose vaccine immunity has worn down or who are unvaccinated,” Adalja said. “So the threat of measles from these kids is really nil.”
According to Holy Family, the children will also be vaccinated during their 30 to 40 day stay.
These children will only be accepted after they have been screened for communicable diseases and have had a mental health evaluation.
The organization also wrote that it will not accept children who must be quarantined or who need psychiatric services.
Adalja said the threat of disease from illegal immigrants pales in comparison to that from travelers.
“I think it’s a misapplication of the focus to think about these children as posing an undue burden of infectious diseases when the fact is people are traveling all over the world and bringing viruses back all the time,” Adalja said. “And that’s the nature of living in a world in which people can travel freely between countries legally, you know, not just the threat of illegal immigrants.”
While some residents oppose the institution taking these children in, Bishop David Zubik said Saturday that he supports the decision.
“Whether they are traveling because of poverty, or violence, or with the hope of reuniting with relatives on the other side of the border, followers of Jesus are called to protect these children and help them because they are very vulnerable and defenseless against any abuse or misfortune,” Zubik said.
Either way, Adalja said the children are not threatening the area with disease.
“These children, they’re really a drop in the bucket of the way infectious diseases travel,” Adalja said. “Infectious diseases don’t respect borders, and they’ve got lots of ways to get into and country, and I think it’s really, it’s not an important place to focus on the control of infectious diseases, when there’s much more scrutiny should be on, given to travelers.”
The institution plans to hold a public forum July 29th at 7 p.m. It has yet to release information as to when the children will arrive.