Senators say tuberculosis flier incident ‘highlights vulnerabilities’
Senators are demanding answers about why a Mexican national infected with a contagious form of tuberculosis was allowed to cross the U.S. border 76 times and whether government officials were told not to discuss the case outside their departments.
Sens. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and Susan Collins, Maine Republican, both members of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, sent letters Oct. 30 to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt about the incident. The senators said it “highlights vulnerabilities we believe still exist within our nation’s border screening systems.”
The senators specifically are asking why the man — Amado Isidro Armendariz Amaya — was allowed to “repeatedly enter the United States after U.S. Customs and Border Protection was alerted and directed to deny his entry?”
Once in the United States he boarded numerous domestic airline flights.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it will not inform passengers whether they flew with Mr. Amaya — whose activity dates back to at least Au- gust 2006. Homeland Security officials, meanwhile, have declined to inform the committee how many or which flights he took.
Mr. Amaya has multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB).
“We expect to receive complete and accurate information on this case in a timely manner,” the senators said in the letters along with a list of more questions that could explain which agency is responsible for holding up or mangling the information.
CBP officials stated that a Be On the Look Out (BOLO) alert was issued on April 16 when they were first notified by CDC but that the information provided was incomplete and inaccurate.
Homeland Security employees told The Washington Times, which first reported the repeated border crossing by Mr. Amaya, they would be fired if the story was ever leaked outside of the CBP agency.
The senators asked: “Were any DHS personnel, including CBP personnel in El Paso, Texas, ever instructed not to discuss the case regarding the Mexican national outside the department?
“If such a directive was made, did it extend to briefing members of Congress? If such a directive was made, who made it?” the lawmakers asked.
Such a directive would be unconstitutional.
The Department of Homeland Security said it is continuing to work with the senators to answer questions about the case.
“The facts of the case have not changed. We are working with the senators’ offices to answer any additional questions that they may have,” DHS spokeswoman Laura Keehner said.
The Senate committee wants to know which agency knew what and when, and why it took at least two months before the Transportation Security Administration was alerted to put Mr. Amaya on a nofly list.
The Department of Health and Human Services referred all questions to the CDC, which did not respond to a request for comment.