Dallas Ebola Patient Was Another Visa Mistake

Look up "likely visa overstay" in the dictionary, and you should find a picture of Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who is the first Ebola case diagnosed within the United States, and who is now being treated in a Dallas hospital.

This looks like another good case for the consular officers training manual of a non-immigrant visa that never should have been issued, but which could have serious public health consequences, not to mention monetary costs.

According to his Facebook page and other reports, Duncan is a 40-something, single, unemployed Liberian who applied sometime in the last year for a visa to visit his sister in the United States.

That is five strikes against his application:

  1. Single
  2. Unemployed
  3. Liberian (5th highest overstay rate of any country in the world)
  4. Has recently resided outside of his country of citizenship, displaying weak ties there
  5. Sister living in the United States.

Together, all these factors should have weighed very heavily against the issuance of a visitor's visa to Duncan. He clearly appears unqualified.

In 2013, more than 3,500 non-immigrant visas were issued to Liberians. This number has grown steadily since 2009, when just over 1,300 were issued. Most are issued to tourists and business travelers. A relatively high percentage do not return, but settle here illegally to join a well-established Liberian community (many of whom have won green cards in the visa lottery).

The federal government has yet to disclose the details of Duncan's immigration history, but it is fair to ask why he was issued a visa in the first place? More importantly, what steps are being taken to prevent others who may be infected from entering the country?

Using 2013 non-immigrant visa issuance statistics and information on visa validity periods, I estimate that there are about 5,000 people from Sierra Leone, 5,000 people from Guinea, and 3,500 people from Liberia who have valid non-immigrant visas to enter the United States.

The president and his immigration agencies have the authority and the responsibility to deny admission to any alien that has (or cannot establish to the government's satisfaction that he or she doesn't have) a communicable disease of public health significance, such as ebola. In the midst of this severe outbreak, the government should be setting up more robust screening protocols. Reportedly, travelers to the United States are simply being questioned about their contact with infected people and are checked for a fever. In contrast, three African countries (Namibia, Kenya, and Zambia) have banned travelers from the countries that are experiencing the outbreak (Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea).

In July, a member of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson suggesting that we bar entry to any foreign travelers who have visited the three Ebola-stricken countries within 90 days of seeking entry to the United States.

But, as with the threat from terrorism and from foreign criminal cartels, the Obama administration seems reluctant to use immigration controls even to protect the homeland.