Stopping ‘Em at the Border


This series tracks my immigration law class at Hofstra.

I have already discussed how people become eligible to come to the U.S. But even if a person qualifies to come as a close family member of a U.S. Citizen or a professor coming to teach at a major university, they may still be kept out if they have done something the U.S. does not approve of. We call these bars.

The first bar was on the immigration of Chinese to the United States. In fact, the Federal immigration system owes its existence to the legal effort to keep Chinese out.

Other disliked groups were also barred from coming to the U.S. Homosexuals were barred until 1990. If you answered yes when asked if you were gay by the INS officer, you were barred for life from coming in. Like Iran, the U.S. had no native born homosexuals.

People could also be barred for expressing leftist political opinions. No such bar existed for rightists. In fact, for many years former Fascists and Nazis were free to enter the U.S.

Many minor crimes can also get a person barred from entering the U.S. We may now be used to presidential candidates with drug histories, but an arrest for possessing a couple of ounces of marijuana or admitting to having used cocaine once many years ago will lead to a person being prevented from getting a green card.

The bars lead to strange results. An AIDS researcher invited to a conference in San Francisco may find himself barred from coming if he himself has AIDS. A defender of the rights of trafficked women might be barred from a speaking engagement in the U.S. if she is a former prostitute.

In coming installments I will look at the impact of the economic bar on families and at ideological bars on freedom of speech.

Read other parts of this series:

Immigration 101 is a comprehensive series on American immigration law for the layperson. This series tracks my course on immigration law at Hofstra Law School and answers many of your questions about immigration policy.

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.

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