Between 1796 and 1893, no fewer than 35 yellow fever epidemics struck New Orleans. The Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878 caused over 800 deaths in just one month. In an attempt to quell the spread of disease, of which the cause was unknown, foreign ships entering the port of New Orleans became subject to more uniform and strict forms of medical quarantine after 1878. While these methods were somewhat effective at reducing disease fatalities, the procedures increasingly focused less on preventing the spread of disease and more preventing the entry of “undesirable peoples” believed to have spread the disease. By 1945, quarantine procedure was awash with racist sentiment as immigrants were increasingly detained based on origin rather than illness.
At the 1905 Quarantine and Immigration Conference, officials from all over the South met to discuss measures regarding quarantine and immigration processes. As officials saw it, the two were synonymous. The fear became that persons entering the United States, specifically from Eastern Europe, carried with them diseases that would infect Americans. This baseless fear increased as more and more immigrants made their way to the United States.
The Algiers Immigration Station located on the West Bank opened for operation in 1913. Sanctions were placed on many minority immigrants to prevent entry and control movement of immigrants. Italian immigrants, for example, were barred from moving outside of designated districts within the state. Quarantine enforcement measures in New Orleans included shotgun-wielding guards on public roads.
When immigrants were detained, the Algiers Station was responsible for communicating necessary information and procedures. This communication was not always clear and officials often could not speak with new arrivals due to language barriers. Quarantined immigrants, deemed “intolerable,” were subjected to uncomfortable and at times dangerous protocol. New Orleans Fumigation units exposed newly arrived immigrants to hydrocyanic gas as part of the disinfection process. This chemical was also used as a crop pesticide.
The surviving immigration site built in 1923 and was later used as a camp to house enemies during World War II. The property was owned by the New Orleans Parish School Board. The original site of detention in the earlier 19th ad 20th centuries was located further down river.