Twelve million people passed through the Ellis Island, New York’s immigration station between 1892 and 1954. Before entering the United States, third-class passengers underwent a visual medical inspection by officers of the United States Public Health Service. The woman in the image above is having her eyes checked for
, a highly contagious disease, by doctor who is
. The physicians looked for signs of contagious diseases as well as mental and physical disabilities.
There have been many changes to our immigration laws over the past centuries. They reflected a concern about contagious illnesses and the need to protect the public's health but also, at times, prejudicial views of foreigners rather than legitimate public health interests. Over time the laws became more specific in terms of diseases that exclude entrance into the U.S. The laws also changed to reflect advances in medicine, such a growing list of vaccinations required prior to entering the country.