INDIANAPOLIS | U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., suggested Monday that immigrant children from Central America could be carrying the Ebola virus that has killed some 800 people this year in West Africa.
The Munster native, whose district includes Newton and Jasper counties, made the unsubstantiated claim during an interview on Indianapolis' WIBC-FM "Garrison" radio program.
Referencing a conversation he had with U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Newburgh, who is a heart surgeon, Rokita said they agreed there is a public health risk associated with the federal refugee agency placing immigrant children in the homes of U.S. relatives or sponsors.
"He said, look, we need to know just from a public-health standpoint, with Ebola circulating and everything else -- no, that's my addition to it, not necessarily his -- but he said we need to know the condition of these kids," Rokita said.
No human Ebola illness ever has been contracted in the Western Hemisphere and none of the 30,340 unaccompanied minors released this year to relatives or sponsors, including the 245 children placed in Indiana homes, have Ebola, according to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.
The refugee agency notes on its placement-reporting website that all children receive vaccinations and medical screenings before being released to a relative or sponsor, and no child is released who has a contagious condition.
Rokita said he doubts that claim and suggested the better course would be to keep all the children together in one place.
"If we believe that a majority of them should be reunited with their parents in their countries, letting them diffuse into the community is just going to be harder to get them to the hearing, harder to find out where they are, who they are," Rokita said.
He added if more children are released to Hoosier relatives, they'll soon enroll in school and "ultimately your property taxes are going to go up."
Classroom instruction in Indiana schools mainly is funded by state sales and income taxes, not local property taxes.
Rokita also concurred with the program's host, Greg Garrison, that the president is a poor leader and deliberately promoting, in Garrison's words, "this insurgency of sneaking these kids in."
Kent Brantly, an Indiana doctor, is fighting for his life in an isolation room at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta after contracting Ebola while treating infected patients in Africa, where nearly all Ebola cases have occurred.
The virus is transmitted initially through human contact with bodily fluids from an infected animal, typically a monkey or bat. Ebola can spread human-to-human through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.
There is no approved treatment for Ebola, which has a fatality rate between 50 and 90 percent.