People wearing protective face masks ride in a city bus as it passes in front of the National Institute of Respiratory Illnesses in Mexico City.
With double-digit cases appearing at a New York school and reports of an outbreak in the Midwest, fear of a swine flu pandemic may upend yet another attempt to reform U.S. immigration laws and deal a catastrophic blow to the economy at the same time.
By Monday afternoon, New York's Mayor Bloomberg confirmed that the number of swine flu cases in the New York school was up to 28. Thankfully, there haven't been any deaths -- unlike in Mexico where the outbreak has killed more than a 100 people. As troubling as these numbers are, reaction from panicked populations worldwide and their representative governments could make things even worse.
Domestically, the Mexican origins of the swine flu could cause Barack Obama to become the second consecutive president to see his plans for comprehensive immigration reform collapse because of events outside his control. In 2001, George W. Bush wanted to push forward on immigration -- only to see that frustrated for several years because of 9/11 and the War on Terror. Any attempt by Obama to liberalize immigration laws -- especially affecting those coming from Mexico -- may run into negative public opinion because of the swine flu problem. Such a development would be bad for the economies of both the US and Mexico (to say nothing of wealthy types in California's Orange County and New York's Upper West Side: Who will tend to their gardens? Who will look after their kids? The horror! The horror!)
Meanwhile, the EU is already advising Europeans not to visit the Americas until there are assurances that the outbreak has been contained. That's awful news for a United States struggling with recession. It's even worse news for a New York City whose economy has become so dependent on tourism in recent years. (Of course, the US is also advising Americans not to travel to Mexico too.)
In short, just as, in the words of President Obama, there were some "glimmers of hope" in the economy, flu fears could throw the world economy into a secondary tailspin.
Just what we needed.
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.