When I went to the National Archives, I was looking for information on medical examinations of immigrants coming into El Paso, Texas. I had four files pulled. Two of them (case file 54,152-46, which was supposed to be files on a typhoid epidemic on the Mexican border; and case file 55,638-925, which bore the description “Medical Inspection of Aliens at El Paso”) were missing from the folders, which is a shame because those had the most relevance to the topic. One of them (case file 55,630-25) ended up being a massive collection of correspondence relating to salary negotiation for border inspectors, which was both not what I wanted and, even worse, boring. The last (Case file 54,717-31, under the heading “Maria Paz Rodriguez–gonorrhoea”) was a file on a single Mexican immigrant who had been deported for prostitution, then snuck back into the country only to be caught and deported again. The file did not have any information on the medical examination, beyond its result: that she was afflicted with “Gonorrhoea, a loathsome, contagious disease.” This phrase was repeated again and again in the documents; it appears to be an official classification.
One thing I was not prepared for is how much of an immigrant’s life could be gleaned from the official interviews conducted by border inspectors (the interviews are ridiculously invasive, which is terrible for the immigrants but very helpful to historians). Combing through interviews for other subjects outside of my project’s purview allowed me to catch similar glimpses of other immigrant’s lives. It seems like that particular file was dealing with prostitution, because that seems to be the recurring theme.It was fascinating to learn just how easy it was to convict an immigrant of prostitution: one immigrant was deported because he rented a room to a young woman who entertained a male guest who was not her husband. Another was deported because he was in a shoot-out, which is exciting. Going forward I should be able to pull more files, and hopefully fewer will be missing, allowing me to get better research done.