Jack E. Kemp
This Independence Day, my thoughts return to a tourist visit I made over decades ago to Ellis Island, the place where new immigrants were examined and processed roughly twenty million immigrants from the late Nineteenth to the early Twentieth Century in New York Harbor.
The most startling thing seen on that visit was the peeling paint of the main building, a problem not based on years of age but on more recent neglect of the plumbing system. The old pipes had broken and flooded the building before anyone could realize what happened. The Ellis Island museum was then asking American citizens for - and they did receive - voluntary funds to fix the pipes and other structures as well as repaint the water damaged walls.
Ellis Island is, of course, a National Park Museum and if you go to the website http://www.nps.gov/elis/historyculture/people.htm ; you can read about inspectors, doctors, nurses who did a quick check of potential immigrant's paperwork to enter the U.S. and their health condition. Some were quarantined on the Island and would later enter into the United States. Others were sent back to their home country, failing to gain entry to the U.S. because of their poor health for such conditions as tuberculosis. The left keeps screaming about "white privilege" but if you contrast Ellis Island to the Central American illegal immigrants now flooding over the U.S. Southern Border, it is these Central Americans who are being allowed entry and the ability to move around the U.S. in a privileged state, with neither legal paperwork (as was required on Ellis Island) nor being required to pass any health inspection requirement of not having communicable diseases. The Central Americans should now be given the same "privileges" as the European and British Isle immigrants who came to Ellis Island around a century ago.
In the tour, our guide told us a funny story of an Eastern European Jew who was flustered by his meeting with stern looking uniformed immigration inspector. When asked his name, he said in Yiddish, "Shoen Fargessen" which means "(I) already forgot." The immigration inspector, wrote down what he heard - "Sean Ferguson" - and that was the new immigrant's legal name in his new country!
The large Ellis Island complex of inspection stations and employee housing and quarantine hospital facilities was not placed on Governor's Island, which was an actual nearby New York Harbor military base and Civil War prison in the Nineteenth and - in the Twentieth Century, it was a Coast Guard base. There was ample housing space on Governor's Island, but in those days the government felt they should keep immigrants, some of them quite ill, far away from the military base and its housing.
So if someone tells you that you are "old fashioned" to want the sanitary and legal safeguards of the Nineteenth Century, ask them if they think disease conditions, such as those that cause tuberculosis, are operating in an "enlightened, modern" way today or whether they operate very much like they did in earlier times - and would operate in that "outdated" fashion when the children carrying those diseases are given "temporary" asylum and placed in public schools and walk in the shopping malls where their own children congregate. Although some people will make an angry face and walk away, others will listen. Over a decade ago, there was a news story in New York City about a school bus company working for some fancy private schools had hired the lowest cost immigrant drivers, some of whom had tuberculosis. And the children who rode those buses had to be tested for the disease because apparently the disease did not have any regard for the family wealth or political convictions (be it liberal or conservative) of the children involved.
There is a similar immigration center on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, now a museum, a place ofter referred to informally as "The Ellis Island of the West Coast." The immigrants arriving there between 1910 and 1940 were largely from Asia (mostly China). And they were processed in the same manner as those on Ellis Island in a center with its own hospital. You can read about it at http://aiisf.org/
So on this Independence Day, it is worth taking a moment to consider what it took, in the last steps of their journey, for many of our ancestors to be officially allowed to enter the United States. Last week Lower Manhattan in New York City was full of tourists standing in line in Battery Park to get on the tourist boat going to both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, all to retrace the steps of perhaps their own ancestors who first saw the Lady in the Harbor and then had to pass her agents' inspections on Ellis Island before being allowed into the United States. No society can care for the health and well being of its citizens - and their children - by relying solely on the sentiments of Emma Lazarus' poetry written on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty's base.Would Lazarus write the same poem if new immigrants with tuberculosis were walking around her neighborhood coughing on Emma and her family?