By Hollis Wormsby, Jr.
Birmingham News columnist, Roy Johnson wrote a column this week where he suggested that we should open our borders to the thousands of undocumented and illegal immigrants streaming towards our border with Mexico without question and screen them the same way we screened the immigrants who came to Ellis Island from Europe. His misinformed suggestion being that there were no screening criteria for people immigrating from Europe. In point of fact, his statement could not be further from the truth. I did some research and found an archived article from a group called GJEVNIC/GJONNIC Archives that offers some details on the screening procedure for European immigrants to enter Ellis Island or any American port at the time.
The evaluation of the potential immigrant would begin in their hometown in Europe where they would apply for permission to purchase a ticket to a port in the United States, The Shipping Agents were required to do a preliminary physical inspection to determine if the potential immigrants was in good health and good standing in his home community. The Shipping Agent would also have to ask the potential immigrant a detailed list of questions and document their answers on the shipping manifest. Amongst the questions asked on the manifest were; the full name and sex; marital status; calling or occupation; destined US seaport and their expected final destination if that destination exceeds the port of entry; whether in possession of thirty dollars, and if less how much less; and, whether in prison or almshouse and what is the condition of the immigrant’s health, mental and physical. This is just a partial list of the questions that had to be asked of each immigrant, and the answers documented in meticulous detail on the ship manifest that would be provided to US health officials upon arrival at the port of entry. Upon arrival at the port of entry the master or first officer of the ship and the ship surgeon were required by law to make an oath before an immigration officer at the port of entry that the lists manifests are to the best of their knowledge and belief true, and that none of the immigrants belongs to any of the excluded classes.
Once the ship enters the port of entry state quarantine authorities then entered the ship and checked the immigrants for quarantinable diseases such as cholera, small pox, typhus fever, yellow fever, or plague. Anyone who failed any part of this screening process would be separated from the others and sent to a board of special inquiry.
Those immigrants who cleared this part of the screening would then be taken to a separate section where the information they entered on the manifest would be reviewed for accuracy if intentional inaccuracies were discovered this would again subject the immigrant to being sent before the board of special inquiry for a decision on their suitability for residence.
Those making it this far into the process were then taken to another medical facility for a more thorough examination to determine their fitness for citizenship application. Only those that successfully made it through all of these steps that began in their country of origin were then given alien green cards that allowed them to seek work while they continued the process of applying for citizenship. So, it is historically documentable that Europeans seeking entry to the United States via Ellis Island or any port of entry had a rigorous evaluation process they had to go through.
The next argument I would make against this, all they want is to find work, just let them in crowd, and especially on behalf of the Black community, is that here in Birmingham if you brought in tens of thousands of students under some sanctuary city concept with very poor English skills, the Birmingham School Board or whatever School System these students enrolled in would be required by federal law to provide all kinds of English as a second language programming and support, but with no new federal dollars to fund this initiative with. This means that the school system would have to take dollars from some other priority and appropriate it for this purpose, which means our schools will be able to do less for our own children. This is especially true here in Birmingham, where we are already struggling to find the funding to adequately educate our own children.
As you may have gathered by my repeated use of the term, “own children”, I am a great believer that you take care of your own before you even think of taking care of someone else’s. I feel empathy for people in the parts of the world that are struggling, but I do not believe that it is the responsibility of this nation to provide for everyone in the world whose own country can’t. I also believe that those wanting to enter our country should follow the procedures established for evaluating their worthiness. Or at least that’s the way I see it.
(Hollis Wormsby has served as a featured columnist for the Birmingham Times for more than 29 years. He is the former host of Talkback on 98.7 KISS FM and of Real Talk on WAGG AM. If you would like to comment on this column you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)