Gardasil or Deportation? White Teen’s Case Highlights Racist Double Standard

By Channing Kennedy Sep 28, 2009

Via Feministing comes the story of Simone Davis, a 17-year-old native Briton described as "an aspiring elementary school teacher and devout Christian." Simone’s grandmother Jeannie, her legal guardian and a US citizen, has been trying for the last decade to get Simone US citizenship while the two of them have been living in Florida. So what’s the holdup? Immigration law requires Simone to be vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease, with Gardasil, a vaccine that even doctors don’t trust. Simone, understandably, sees no need and a lot of risks in Gardasil, and doesn’t understand why it’s not required of any of her fellow Florida classmates. Simone and Jeannie sought a religious and moral waiver from all vaccines — there’s no way to seek a waiver from just one vaccine — and were rejected. Local churches helped raise the more than $1700 to cover the fees for Simone’s permanent residency status, and the Davises say they can’t afford the $585 to appeal the waiver rejection, much less the prohibitively expensive vaccine. So what does this mean for Simone? It means she’s facing separation from her family and deportation back to a country that she has no ties to, for the crime of refusing to pay to put her health and her life at risk. Simone and Jeannie are up against an immigration system that employs dangerous, sometimes deadly, double standards. And by fighting it, she’s drawn attention to another double standard — that of the ‘good immigrant.’ From

When Gardasil was added to the vaccine list last year, it drew anger and protests from immigration advocates, who argued that it placed an unfair financial burden on women. A three-shot series of the vaccine can cost between $300 and $1,400. Some health care policy experts suggested the requirement was excessive and unnecessary. Of the 14 required vaccines, 13 are designed to combat infectious diseases that are considered highly contagious. But Gardasil targets a virus spread through sexual contact. Though 18 states are currently debating whether to make the vaccine mandatory [for all residents], none, so far, require it. "I am most definitely surprised and I would love to know how it ever became policy," said Dr. Jacques Moritz, director of gynecology at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. "I wonder if the drug company could have had any influence." "It’s a voluntary vaccine, and for the U.S. government to make it a mandatory decision to come to this country is crazy," he told "It has no public health value that has been shown." … "Nothing is more important to [Gardasil manufacturer] Merck than the safety of our medicines and vaccines," she told "We are confident in the safety profile of Gardasil." The company garnered $1.4 billion in sales last year.

To switch gears for a minute — Jamelle at PostBourgie said, in an excellent post on the role of racial identity politics in getting the mainstream to vote against its interest:

… actively calling out a racial appeal can serve to defuse its power. Tali Mendelberg addresses this with considerable detail in her book The Race Card, but it suffices to say that a large part of the power of racial appeals stems from their subtlety. No one likes to think of themselves as a racist, or even as someone who harbors racial prejudice, and a skillful racial appeal takes account of this by offering a plausible non-racial narrative. If someone makes the racial narrative explicit (which isn’t nearly as simple as it sounds), it is possible to defuse the appeal, and make its intended targets inclined to reject it.

I bring it up because Simone’s case is something of a ‘perfect storm’ in the face of those who use xenophobia to push immigration policy, because it puts our dialogue’s racial double standard into stark relief. Like Jamelle says, people don’t want to be racist — but there’s very few opportunities to isolate our current immigration policy from racism, to show how tightly knit they are. When Mississippi separated Cirila Baltazar Cruz from her baby for not speaking English, immigration reform opponents didn’t hesitate to spin her as an ‘illegal immigrant’ ‘taking advantage’ of our health care system to have an ‘anchor baby.’ (For the record, Baltazar Cruz is Oaxacan.) This dialogue never arises around the Davises. Nobody’s accusing Simone of ‘stealing taxpayer money’ via our public school system, or saying that she should ‘just get a job’ to pay the immigration fees, or that she should be deported back ‘where she came from’ despite the fact that the US has been her home for a decade and she’s got no ties to the UK. This silence illustrates that the argument for being ‘tough on immigration’ isn’t about immigrants, it’s about ‘those people.’ If a white English-speaking abstinent Christian teenage female isn’t one of ‘those people,’ then it’s pretty clear who ‘those people’ are. To put it another way, I have yet to hear Lou Dobbs call for the deportation of Simone Davis. The CDC has been feeling a lot of heat from all sides about Gardasil. Here’s a chance to form some alliances — with racial justice groups, with immigration reform advocates, and with the many Christian groups who have picked up on Simone’s story. Let’s make our voices heard and strike a blow against the dangerous double standards in our immigration policy and in our immigration dialogue. Let’s put race on the table, and justice with it, for Simone and Jeannie and for all of our people. photo credit Despina Williams / Florida Freedom Newspapers