4/30/2009 5:37:00 PM Despite flu outbreak, officials plan to keep border open
Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services
The nation's top officials said Wednesday there are no plans to close the border with Mexico -- or even parts of it - in response to the outbreak of swine flu in that country.
In a press conference, President Barack Obama said he has been consulting on a regular basis with health professionals, sometimes hour by hour, on what actions would be appropriate. He said they have not recommended that option.
More to the point, the president suggested, they told him it likely would be too little, too late.
"From their perspective, it would be akin to closing the barn door after the horses are out,' he said. "We already have cases here in the United States.'
That logic -- and even the barnyard reference -- was virtually the same way Gov. Jan Brewer referred to the problem and why she, too, believes it makes little sense to restrict travel between the two countries.
"At this point in time, the virus is here in Arizona,' the governor said at a press conference several hours before the president made his remarks.
"We've got documented cases,' Brewer continued, and her own health experts say more cases will come.
"The pig has left the pen, if you will,' the governor said. She said the best course at this point is to "mitigate any further illnesses by giving people information and following our plan.'
Janet Napolitano, the nation's homeland security chief, concurred with those assessments.
"Making such a closure right now has not been merited by the facts,' Napolitano testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. And Napolitano said such a move would have "very, very little marginal benefit in terms of containing the actual outbreak of virus within our own country.'
But Napolitano, in a separate press briefing, said that doesn't mean her agency is ignoring the threat.
She said Customs and Border Protection has so far referred 49 suspected cases to the Centers for Disease Control or state or local officials.
"All the results have been negative, except the eight that are still under study,' she said. "No one was detained for more than a couple of hours.'
Napolitano, a former Arizona governor, said she is willing to consider some additional restrictions and screenings at ports of entry.
She said, though, they have to make sense. And Napolitano said they also have to be weighed against the disruption they would cause.
"There's a terrific amount of lawful commerce and traffic that goes through these ports,' she said. "There's huge economic disruption and jobs disruption any time you add a procedure on at the ports.'
Napolitano said, though, the safety of U.S. citizens remains her agency's No. 1 priority. But she said the information she has to this point is that additional measures "would not impact the safety of the American people.'
"To do some of these things simply for symbolic purposes, without really nailing down do they help us solve a problem and improve the safety of the American people, one of my goals as we go through this process is to help us keep all of our eyes focused on the ball,' Napolitano said. "And the ball is how do we mitigate the effects and the spread of this flu within our own country.'