Contagious Disease, Epidemics, National Security, and U.S. Immigration: Historical Policy Responses (Working Paper #187)

Robbie Totten, Center for Comparative Immigration Studies

Abstract: What is the relationship between epidemics, national security, and U.S. immigration policy? This question is important because epidemics have posed perhaps the largest security threat to humankind through history, with several of them claiming lives at a faster pace than the even great wars of the twentieth century.  Extant literature in the area correctly and importantly brings attention to the danger of leaders misusing epidemic risk to justify xenophobic migration policies, but a greater understanding of the relationship between epidemics, national security, and U.S. immigration policy is required to protect against catastrophic events and bring transparency to the area to hold officials accountable for responsible policy decisions.  This working paper does this by reviewing epidemics in American and world history, using the International Relations (IR) and Security Studies literatures to specify the danger of epidemics for nation-states, and identifying and providing examples using primary source evidence of three broad immigration policy measures that American leaders have utilized from the colonial period to the present-day to protect against contagions.  This study has implications for American Political Development, IR, and migration research and can assist contemporary analysts and officials with forming prudent migration policies that maximize human safety.

Working Paper #187»