Time for a New Ellis Island?

Lessons from America's former defensive bulwark against foreign diseases.

aborderThe open borders/amnesty advocates whom I have come to refer to as the “immigration anarchists,” regularly complain bitterly that Ellis Island was closed. Indeed, Ellis Island was closed on November 12, 1954. However, this hardly meant that the United States was no longer permitting aliens to be legally admitted into the United States which was the message that I suspect those bemoaning the closing of that government facility wanted people to infer.

The reality is that while Ellis Island had nearly 70 years ago, other ports of entry scattered across the United States were open and facilitating the entry of aliens into the United States. These ports of entry are to be found along both the northern and southern borders of the United States, at seaports along the coastlines of the United States and at international airports. This coincides with a point I have often made about the United States having 50 “border states.”

Last year approximately one million aliens were lawfully admitted into the United States by presenting themselves for inspection at those numerous ports of entry and provided with Alien Registration Receipt Cards (also known as “Green Cards”) to signify their lawful immigrant status in accordance with the alien registration requirement of the Immigration and Nationality Act. These aliens, from virtually every country on this planet, were, upon their day of being granted lawful immigrant status, immediately placed on the pathway to United States citizenship. The number of aliens who were lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States was greater than the number of all immigrants legally admitted by all other countries around the world.

So much for the wailing about the shuttering of Ellis Island!

However, what is almost never discussed by anyone -- especially the immigration anarchists, is that Ellis Island was a quarantine station that was operated by the United States Public Health Service in conjunction with immigration authorities. The fact is that the inspection facility was intentionally located on an island of the shore of New York City to make certain that aliens could not set foot on the U.S. mainland unless they were admitted into the United States and transported to the mainland. This was done to make certain that aliens who suffered dangerous communicable diseases could not sneak into the United States and create an epidemic.

Recently the hospital located at the Ellis Island complex of buildings has opened as a new exhibit at the Ellis Island Museum. CNN published a report about the hospital on October 1, 2014 with the appropriate title, "New York's hospital of immigrants: Where hope and pain collide." The timing of the opening of that component of the museum at Ellis Island could not have come at a more appropriate time.

Concerns about the potential for dangerous diseases crossing our borders have been tremendously elevated in the wake of the recent Ebola outbreak in Africa that has reach historic proportions and with the discovery that a Liberian citizen, Thomas Eric Duncan, had traveled to the United States by commercial airline flight and lied about his exposure to patients who were suffering from the Ebola virus.

The October 3, 2014 report, "Ebola patient's leaving Liberia was 'unpardonable,' its President says," provided some important details.

Here is how the report begins:

(CNN) -- Days before he became the first person diagnosed with Ebola on American soil, Thomas Eric Duncan answered "no" to questions about whether he had cared for a patient with the deadly virus.

Before leaving Liberia, Duncan also answered no to a question about whether he had touched the body of someone who died in an area affected by the disease, said Binyah Kesselly, board chairman of the Liberia Airport Authority.

Witnesses say Duncan had been helping Ebola patients in Liberia. Liberian community leader Tugbeh Chieh Tugbeh said Duncan was caring for an Ebola-infected patient at a residence in Paynesville City, just outside Monrovia.

That single lie on that piece of paper was all that was needed for Duncan to board that airliner and enter the United States through a port of entry, potentially putting countless lives in the United States at risk.

The immigration inspections process conducted by CBP (Customs and Border Protection) inspectors is supposed to prevent entry of aliens who pose a threat to national security and the safety and well-being of Americans. For this vital mission to succeed, our borders must be made truly secure to make certain that aliens cannot evade that inspections process.

The list of such aliens is contained in the following section of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA): Title 8 U.S. Code § 1182 - Inadmissible aliens. It includes various grounds of excludability including criminals, spies, terrorists, human rights violators and others. None of the grounds of excludability make any reference to race, religion or ethnicity. What is not generally known however, is that the list of these grounds for exclusion begin with public health concerns.

Here is how this section of law begins:

(a) Classes of aliens ineligible for visas or admission

Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, aliens who are inadmissible under the following paragraphs are ineligible to receive visas and ineligible to be admitted to the United States:

(1) Health-related grounds

(A) In general

Any alien—

(i) who is determined (in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services) to have a communicable disease of public health significance; [1]

(ii) except as provided in subparagraph (C), who seeks admission as an immigrant, or who seeks adjustment of status to the status of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence, and who has failed to present documentation of having received vaccination against vaccine-preventable diseases, which shall include at least the following diseases: mumps, measles, rubella, polio, tetanus and diphtheria toxoids, pertussis, influenza type B and hepatitis B, and any other vaccinations against vaccine-preventable diseases recommended by the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices,

(iii) who is determined (in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Attorney General)—

(I) to have a physical or mental disorder and behavior associated with the disorder that may pose, or has posed, a threat to the property, safety, or welfare of the alien or others, or

(II) to have had a physical or mental disorder and a history of behavior associated with the disorder, which behavior has posed a threat to the property, safety, or welfare of the alien or others and which behavior is likely to recur or to lead to other harmful behavior, or

(iv) who is determined (in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services) to be a drug abuser or addict, is inadmissible.

(B) Waiver authorized

For provision authorizing waiver of certain clauses of subparagraph (A), see subsection (g) of this section.

(C) Exception from immunization requirement for adopted children 10 years of age or younger

Clause (ii) of subparagraph (A) shall not apply to a child who—

(i) is 10 years of age or younger,

(ii) is described in subparagraph (F) or (G) of section 1101 (b)(1) of this title; [1]and

(iii) is seeking an immigrant visa as an immediate relative under section 1151 (b) of this title,

if, prior to the admission of the child, an adoptive parent or prospective adoptive parent of the child, who has sponsored the child for admission as an immediate relative, has executed an affidavit stating that the parent is aware of the provisions of subparagraph (A)(ii) and will ensure that, within 30 days of the child’s admission, or at the earliest time that is medically appropriate, the child will receive the vaccinations identified in such subparagraph.

All sorts of proposals to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus to the United States have been made by our political leaders including ending flights from countries in which patients suffering from Ebola have been found, including Liberia and Sierra Leone, where according to some reports, the Ebola virus is spreading like “wild fire.”

Of course people who are determined to leave those countries will likely manage to cross the borders of neighboring countries, potentially further spreading this deadly disease, and then seeking to board airliners for flights to the United States and other countries.

Recommendations are being made about how CBP inspectors and other government officials should modify the inspections process at ports of entry. Certainly this makes sense. However, no matter how effective the screening process may be at America's ports of entry, we need to remember that our nation's borders exist on maps but not in the “real world.”

Our nation has, as I have noted on ever so many occasions, 50 “border states.”

Our borders must be made secure against those who would smuggle aliens and contraband into the United States. In addition to concern about narcotics and weapons into the United States, even seemingly prosaic substances as meat may provide a deadly threat.

On August 21, 2014 Newsweek Magazine published a worrying report, "Smuggled Bushmeat Is Ebola's Back Door to America." Talk about the expression that “One man't meat is another's poison.”

High-ranking officials of the DHS of both the Bush and Obama administrations repeatedly claimed our “borders are secure” while blithely ignoring the massive tsunami of illegal aliens entering the United States each day along with record quantities of narcotics which provide an irrefutable metric that makes the failures of border security crystal clear. The United States is in the midst of the worst heroin epidemic in decades -- perhaps ever. Police departments across the United States have taken to the unprecedented measure of providing their officers with the antidote to heroin overdoses.

Heroin and cocaine are not produced in the United States. If our borders were truly secure those substances could not get into the United States.

For years our politicians and even high-ranking officials of the DHS have claimed that running our borders is not a crime. The reality is, of course, far different.

While it is true that the first time an alien evades the inspections process and, in the jargon of immigration enforcement personnel is an EWI (Entrant Without Inspection), an alien who has been previously deported and then unlawfully re-enters the United States is most definitely committing a felony. The provisions of this section of the Immigration and Nationality Act are contained in Title 8 U.S. Code § 1326 - Reentry of removed aliens.

Under this statute, the maximum penalty a previously deported aliens faces if he (she) has no criminal history and illegally re-enters the United States is 2 years in federal custody. However, an alien who was deported subsequent to being convicted of committing “aggravated felonies” faces a maximum of 20 years in a federal prison. Certainly any crime that carries a 20-year maximum penalty is a very serious crime, indeed.

I am particularly proud of that last violation of law; in the early 1980s I worked with then-U.S. Senator Al D'Amato to create that particular law and took special delight in making the first arrest of an alien (a convicted narcotics dealer) for violating that statute.

Today's concerns about our borders being breached by transnational criminals and international terrorists from al-Qaeda, ISIS or Khorasan have been expanded to people entering the United States who are infected with the Ebola virus and other such contagious diseases that are truly the stuff of nightmares. These concerns may even transcend the issue of whether or not an alien evading the inspections process is committing a crime. Given the current circumstances, the bigger issue may turn out to be whether or not by malevolent intent in the case of criminals or terrorists or by being infected with a deadly communicable disease, an alien's ability to evade the inspections process may result in massive numbers of casualties in the United States.

Our leaders, including event the most ardent open borders advocates, must finally accept the reality that our borders, no matter where they are to be found, are our first and last line of defense against criminals, terrorists and deadly epidemics.

Given the magnitude of the dangers, where our borders are concerned, “secure enough” is not secure enough.

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