Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Uncertain Health in an Insecure World – 77


The word alien has its roots in the Latin word alienus (belonging to another). In that ancient era, this term referenced one of another noble house or those living outside Rome, and eventually persons from beyond the bounds of the Roman Empire.

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto…” I am a man, I consider nothing that is human alien to me.

This enlightened prose appeared in Heauton Timorumenos, a play written by Publius Terentius Afer (BC 195 – 159). Ironically, Terence was was brought to Rome as a slave from North Africa. As the Roman Empire grew across what is now modern Europe and Northern Africa, derivative meanings for alien emerged – unfriendly, hostile, unsuitable, strange, foreign and inconsistent. By circa AD 1500, the term “alien priority” referred to owing one’s obedience to a mother abbey in a foreign country.

In the 1940’s, the “alienation effect” grew from the works of poet/playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898 – 1956). The term was derived from the German Verfremdungseffekt, reflecting a theater audience’s estranged point of view. Some etymologists connect the word alien to incompatibility – multiple gods being alien to monotheistic peoples, for example.

H.G. Wells used the term Martians, not aliens, in War of the Worlds (1898). “Not of the Earth” meaning for alien was first recorded in the 1920’s. But it was not until the post-Roswell New Mexico 1950’s (below) that the term was commonly used in reference to beings from another planet – extraterrestrials.

In the science fiction that is modern politics, the adjective-added term, “illegal alien”, has taken on an especially pejorative meaning. It reflects foreigners who are not naturalized citizens in their country of residence. It engenders fear among some... hatred in others.

But before aliens invaded Earth, immigrants came ashore. These intraterrestrials looked like "Us", but weren't treated like "Us".

New York City’s harbor is peppered with islands that were used as immigrant quarantine stations between 1758 and 1954. Bedloe’s (now Liberty) Island housed ships’ crews infected with small pox, cholera, yellow fever and other contagions. Nutten’s (now Governor’s) Island held yellow fever incubators until an epidemic overcame it in 1799. Staten Island’s Tompkinville housed ship-fever victims, before it was burned down by local vigilantes in 1858. Its survivors were transferred to Blackwell’s (now Roosevelt) Island for small pox risk, or Ward’s Island for destitute males, or to the floating hospital steamships like The Falcon.

The passage of the U.S. General Quarantine Act in 1863 created a system of immigrant screening and facility allocation. From 1892 to 1954, Ellis Island (above) processed 70% of all immigrants entering the United States. Third-class passengers with suspected contagious diseases were housed there until they were finally examined by medical inspectors on “the line” (below). Immigrants marked (literally) by public health officers with a ‘C’, ‘X’ or ‘S’ who were granted hospital treatment at Ellis Island and other NYC Port facilities were often deported for their inability to pay all medical expenses.

Deporting is derived from circa 1640 French (déporter) and Latin (deportare), and can be traced back to the folk etymology of leaving harbor (portus).

Many American communities’ European roots flowed through Ellis Island’s quarantine houses. And if “America was built by immigrants”, then most of those immigrants were, by current definition, aliens.

The same fears of 1880's and 1890's immigrants entering the United States carrying “loathsome and dangerous” infectious diseases allowed public health officers to not admit undesirables “who would not make good citizens.” By 1903, there were widespread U.S. fears that these immigrants would “likely become a public charge.”

Similar dynamics are prompting present day concerns about importing SARS, Ebola, and Zika -  diseases that begin elsewhere and are carried into The Homeland by migrants. Unlike stowage on ships that took weeks to cross the ocean, these epidemics emerge but before they become clinically evident. Jets full of carriers travel in mere hours from one end of Earth to the other.

Border patrols of many countries are now faced with a human tsunami of illegal aliens and war refugees. Minors are known to carry “severe and dangerous” diseases including swine flu, dengue fever, Enterovirus D68 and multidrug resistant tuberculosis. Immigration nihilists point out that these unaccompanied children (UAC) often lack basic vaccinations, putting the indigenous population at risk of chicken pox and measles. These worries feed the blogosphere and fuel the xenophobic rhetoric of many politicians.

The British Empire had its own sad story of alien abuse.

Between 1860 and 1948, the forced emigration of >100,000 children to Canada – so-called Home Children – was a legal open secret. Over fifty organizations, including The Salvation Army, scooped up orphans, single-parent influenza survivors, street urchins & paupers (above) to become indentured farm hands and household domestics across Canada. Seen at the time as a social engineering solution to the Industrial Revolution’s wretched poverty, most Home Children never saw their British families again. Some died and committed suicide. Many were injured and abused. And most survivors were left suffering from PTSD.

These Home Children should not be confused with World War II’s Guest Children, who came to Canada to escape the Nazi Blitz. Another 50,000 Home Children went to Rhodesia, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. In 2009 and 2010, Australian PM Kevin Rudd and British PM Gordon Brown offered their countries’ long overdue apologies. More than 10% of the current Canadian population can trace its roots back to Home Children.

But Canada’s government of the day failed to follow suit with a public apology. In 2010, then Immigration Minister Jason Kenney stated that, “Canadians don’t expect their government to apologize for every sad event in our history.” Newly elected Canadian PM Justin Trudeau recently greeted some of the 25,000 refugees escaping from the Syrian war zone (below). One can hope that Trudeau’s progressive government will finally acknowledge Home Children mistreatment.

In modern usage, these children might be politely miscast as “guest workers.” But the U.S. Southern Poverty Law Center (est. 1971) has called such children “slaves.”

The brutal mistakes of ancient and modern empires are symptoms of their imminent decay and eventual failure.

Waves of illegal aliens fleeing abject poverty, wars and brutal genocides cannot all be one country’s problem to solve. Within reason, all countries must share the economic and societal burden of such refugees. Once inside their borders, these people must be afforded asylum and the protection of law.

Progressives and protectionists alike in all countries must find humanistic common ground. Most of us are descended from aliens… immigrants… émigrés.

What’s in a name? Increasingly, it’s mean-spirited labels that count against them.

Migrants and refugees are still treated like alien intraterrestrials.

We in the Square appreciate that there are limits to human generosity - to our humanity.

But a blind eye is still open. And the other eye cannot simply be averted from these issues.

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