Another Way for New York City to Limit the Migrant Fallout

The Feds must enforce health-related requirements of the immigration law

By Hart Celler on August 17, 2023

New York is drowning in migrants. Sure, it only has, at last count, about 100,000 more that it knows of since Joe Biden was inaugurated (only 11,500 of them bused by the State of Texas, since it started sending them the year before). That’s out of a city of 8,335,897, down almost a half-million people from the 2020 Decennial Census, which perhaps unironically the city claims was approximately equal to its “undocumented population” in 2017.

Still, the number of aliens appearing in the Big Apple as part of the Biden border surge is not insignificant, since the majority, besides being unlawfully present (read: not paroled-in), are arriving almost universally unhoused, hungry, and legally unemployable.

The Center’s George Fishman questioned recently whether New York City could use the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) to mitigate the migrant crisis it finds itself in, especially concerning its obligations to provide housing to them.

I would argue there’s an additional way that the city could relieve the burden Biden’s border crisis has imposed on it – demand the federal government fulfill the health-related responsibilities imposed on it by the immigration law.

The New York Post reported in January that Row Hotel whistleblower Felipe Rodriguez said, “there was no supervision for migrants who were supposed to be quarantined for COVID, chicken pox and other infectious diseases”. More recent reporting found increasing numbers of cases of polio, a disease the CDC says was eliminated in the U.S. in 1979. Additional maladies include tuberculosis (TB), chickenpox, and (as yet unconfirmed) scabies – the three diseases mentioned in “Oversight of Unaccompanied Alien Children,” a 2014 memo from DHS Inspector General to then-Secretary Jeh Johnson outlining how:

  • Many UAC and family units require treatment for communicable diseases, including respiratory illness, tuberculosis, chicken pox, and scabies.
  • UAC and family unit illnesses and unfamiliarity with bathroom facilities resulted in unsanitary conditions and exposure to human waste in some holding facilities. ...
  • DHS employees reported exposure to communicable diseases and becoming sick on duty. ... CBP personnel reported contracting scabies, lice, and chicken pox ... USBP [Border Patrol] personnel ... reported they were potentially exposed to tuberculosis.

New York City could probably get out of hosting a significant number of migrants by demanding, by a lawsuit if necessary, that the Biden administration do two things: detain the aliens for physical and mental examination, as required by 8 U.S.C. § 1222; and enforce the health-related grounds of inadmissibility, 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(1)(A), which includes aliens “determined (in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services) to have a communicable disease of public health significance.” Despite not being an issue related to infectious disease, another ground of inadmissibility It should enforce relates to those who “have [or] had a physical or mental disorder and a history of behavior associated with the disorder, which [] pose[s] 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,” and maybe, those determined “to be a drug abuser or addict,” and perhaps, though a long-shot, also the habitual drunkard (as defined by 8 U.S.C. § 1101(f)(1)) among them.

While last amended in September 1996, as part of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1222 originates in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, supplementing earlier statutes related to screening criteria employed at, among other places, Ellis Island, in New York Harbor. The American Medical Association’s (AMA) Journal of Ethics writes that the Public Health Service “encouraged its officers to spend as much time as necessary to make accurate diagnoses of those ‘turned off the [medical inspection] line’”, and noted that “[s]ome were confined, often for many months and sometimes years, in the isolation units in the southernmost wing of Ellis Island.”

Even before the closure of Ellis Island in 1954, the U.S. began transitioning to a system where legal immigration to the country generally begins at U.S. consulates abroad; the onus for a medical examination now falls to the prospective immigrant via “Panel physicians ... appointed by the local US embassy or consulate.”

Detractors will assuredly point out that I just described a process for legally immigrating. There are three points I would offer in rebuttal. The first, aliens coming to the United States are not only entering illegally; they did so intending to immigrate here, despite then-Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s insistence in September 2021 that the migrants are “not intending to stay here for a lengthy period of time.” Secondly, while some of those illegal immigrants may be requesting asylum, the Immigration Court backlog has become so great that it will be years, if not decades, before some of the more recent cases are adjudicated. Finally, similar medical screenings are required for refugees and “adjustment of status” (the process of applying for a green card from within the U.S. when the alien is here in a nonimmigrant status).

It’s not too late for New York City to save itself, but unless his recent performances are simply for an infusion of federal cash, hizzoner Mayor Adams, having abandoned the “Refugees Welcome” rhetoric of his predecessor, is going to have to do more than pander for the cameras. He might need to engage the New York City Law Department about filing a suit. If it needs help, I’m sure the offices of the Attorneys General in Texas, Florida, Missouri, Louisiana, etc., would be happy to provide some, given their shared interest in securing the Southwest border, and also in seeing that aliens be detained (whether because that’s what Congress intended for aliens seeking asylum, or to prevent outbreaks in one of America’s most populous city of diseases worse than COVID or TB, like malaria, dengue fever, leprosy, or acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), a “neurologic condition that causes muscle weakness, sometimes leading to permanent paralysis” which “mainly affect[s] young children,” and was all but unknown in the U.S. before 2014).

Topics: Health Care