Doctors at the Borders
Immigration and the Rise of Public Health
by Michael C. LeMay
July 2015, 261pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-4024-1
$66, £49, 57€, A90
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-4025-8
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Newly emerging diseases and increasingly drug-resistant mutations of germs and viruses are becoming problematic.

A unique resource for the general public and students interested in immigration and public health, this book presents a comprehensive history of public health and draws 10 key lessons for current immigration and health policymakers.

The period of 1820 to 1920 was one of mass migration to the United States from other nations of origin. This century-long period served to develop modern medicine with the acceptance of the germ theory of disease and the lessons learned from how immigration officials and doctors of the United States Marine Hospital Service (USMHS) confronted six major pandemic diseases: bubonic plague, cholera, influenza, smallpox, trachoma, and yellow fever.

This book provides a narrative history that relates how immigration doctors of the USMHS developed devices and procedures that greatly influenced the development of public health. It illuminates the distinct links between immigration policy and public health policy and distinguishes ten key lessons learned nearly 100 years ago that are still relevant to coping with current public health policy issues.

By re-examining the experiences of doctors at three U.S. immigration/quarantine stations—Angel Island, Ellis Island, and New Orleans—in the early 19th century through the early 20th century, Doctors at the Borders: Immigration and the Rise of Public Health analyzes the successes and failures of these medical practitioners’ pioneering efforts to battle pandemic diseases and identifies how the hard-won knowledge from that relatively primitive period still informs how public health policy should be written today. Readers will understand how the USMHS doctors helped shape the very development of U.S. public health and modern scientific medicine, and see the need for international cooperation in the face of today’s global threats of pandemic diseases.


  • Addresses many "hot topics" regarding public health, such as how to best cope with mass migration of legal and illegal immigrants; concern about pandemics like the Ebola crisis in West Africa, the Enterovirus-D68 outbreak, and the recent avian flu and swine flu epidemics; and the threat of bioterrorism within the United States
  • Examines the history of the mass migration of the 1820–1920 era to provide insight into how to better cope with mass migration and the public health threats of today
  • Demonstrates how more lives are saved through public health campaigns than any other approach to medicine, and that only a national approach to public health can adequately thwart the threats of pandemic disease to our entire country
  • Presents information derived from original research from records at the National Archives and Records Administration and at the National Museum of Health and Medicine
Michael C. LeMay, PhD, is professor emeritus of political science at California State University-San Bernardino (CSUSB), CA. He has received awards for teaching excellence, university service, and professional development from CSUSB, where he served as director of the National Security Studies program, chair of the Department of Political Science, and assistant dean for student affairs of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. His published work includes immigration policy titles such as Praeger's From Open Door to Dutch Door: An Analysis of U.S. Immigration Policy Since 1820, Guarding the Gates: Immigration and National Security, and Anatomy of a Public Policy: The Reform of Contemporary American Immigration Law; Greenwood's American Immigration and Naturalization Laws and Issues: A Documentary History; ABC-CLIO's U.S. Immigration: A Reference Handbook and Illegal Immigration: A Reference Handbook; and The Struggle for Influence: The Impact of Minority Groups on Politics & Public Policy in the United States. He is a contributing author and series editor of the three-volume Transforming America: Perspectives on U.S. Immigration.


"This is a useful book that the general reader can appreciate and policy makers will find useful. Good notes, bibliography, and glossary. Summing Up: Recommended. All public health library collections."—Choice, April 1, 2016

"In this era of globalization and severe public health threats and challenges, Dr. Michael LeMay raises an extremely timely issue: how to accommodate large-scale migration with its myriad benefits, while stemming public health threats and treating immigrants who may be carrying deadly and contagious diseases. Doctors at the Borders: Immigration and the Rise of Public Health takes as its reference point the courageous work of medical professionals in the quarantine stations at Ellis Island, Angel Island, and New Orleans, who fought the spread of bubonic plague, Spanish influenza, small pox, and other deadly diseases and viruses, saving untold lives in the process and contributing substantially to the emergence of public health procedures and public health as a field of medical practice."—Donald Kerwin, Executive Director, Center for Migration Studies of New York
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