Immigrant exams

Cuban refugee children arriving in Key West, Fla., in May 1980. Throughout history, the United States has used all sorts of physical or mental exams for immigrants seeking to get into the country. Steve Helber, AP file photo

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — President Donald Trump announced last week a wide-ranging immigration plan that would change the criteria for how certain immigrants would be allowed in the U.S. His proposal includes a civics test for entrance. Some critics say such an exam could exclude many high-skilled immigrants, while others called the idea bizarre and charged that some U.S. citizens might fail such a test themselves.

If adopted, this would not be the first time the U.S. has embraced a physical or mental exam for immigrants seeking just to get into the country outside of becoming a citizen. Here's a look at how the U.S. used entrance exams on aspiring immigrants throughout history:

Ellis Island

Millions of immigrants from Europe would come through Ellis Island in New York Harbor before entering the U.S. in the early 20th Century and U.S. officials would subject them to all sorts of physical and mental exams.

To determine the "mental fitness" of new arrivals, an examiner administered an exam involving a wooden 10-piece puzzle known as the Feature Profile Test. According to the Smithsonian , officials said the exam would help keep out "feeble-minded" immigrants.

Howard A. Knox, a physician who developed the test, said it would sort out immigrants "who may, because of their mental make-up, become a burden to the State or who may produce offspring that will require care in prisons, asylums, or other institutions."

The puzzle test was used until 1916.

Other exams involved asking children to speak to check for hearing and forcing toddlers to walk to check for physical abilities.

Forced Fumigation

During the Mexican Revolution from 1910-20, the U.S. began adopting policies to halt refugees seeking to escape the violence in Mexico. Some white people complained that Mexican migrants carried diseases and lice and demanded that federal officials delouse migrants.

To enter the U.S. migrants were forced to strip and were sprayed with pesticides. Officials then threw their clothes in a steam dryer. It was later discovered that health workers had been photographing images of naked women and posted the photographs at a nearby cantina.

The practice of fumigating Mexican migrants continued until the 1950s.

in researching his book "Ringside Seat to a Revolution," historian David Dorado Romo told NPR in 2006 that he had discovered that U.S. officials at the Santa Fe Bridge in El Paso, Texas, continued to delouse and spray the clothes of Mexicans crossing into the U.S. with Zyklon B — a cyanide-based pesticide invented in Germany in the 1920s.

Romo said the Nazis later used the same chemical as a fumigation agent at German border crossings and at gas chambers in concentration camps to kill millions of people.

The Marielitos

In 1980, Cuban President Fidel Castro announced that anyone who wanted to leave Cuba was free to do so from the port of Mariel. As a result, nearly 125,000 Cubans jumped on watercraft and headed to Florida.

U.S. officials soon discovered that Castro was also sending refugees from Cuban jails and mental health institutions.

The U.S. government soon took over the processing of refugees known as "marielitos" and placed them at detention centers. There, officials with U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services screened and interviewed the refugees. The refugees had to answer a series of questions about their past, any connections to organized crime and their mental health in order to be released.

Federal immigration officials refused to admit about 2,000 marielitos based on mental illness and criminal records.

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