Passports for individual people did not exist in 1822 when Captain William A. Richardson jumped ship on San Francisco Bay. Trading ships or warships visiting for trade or provisions handed Mexican authorities documents listing all crew members. Although Richardson himself had no passport at the time he landed, the California governor gave him permission to stay if he proved his worth, was baptized into the Catholic Church, and pledged loyalty to the Mexican government. In 1841, when John Bidwell, who later became a California state governor, staggered over the Sierra Nevada Mountains into Alta California in the first wagon train, he and his fellow Americans had to purchase passes in order to remain and settle there. Having lost most of their belongings on the arduous journey, they struggled to find enough money or items to trade for Mexican passports. They would have been imprisoned if they could not.
On an Ellis Island tour, I learned how immigrants were processed before being allowed to enter the United States in the 1890s. They faced the threat of being shipped back to their native country if they were ill, lame, or a criminal. Entering the country was a lengthy process. After a long ocean voyage, passengers were transferred from their ships to ferries that lacked food or fresh water and had to stay aboard them until Ellis Island authorities were ready to process new immigrants. These tired, hopeful, hungry people were questioned, poked and prodded by doctors, had their eyelids pulled back with buttonhooks to check for trachoma, and had to prove they could support themselves, not be a burden to their new country.
During the last two years, Americans returning from overseas were asked to get PCR tests for Covid-19 or be vaccinated to prevent the spread of a disease. There were grumblings and objections, but the process was so much simpler than the one immigrants had on Ellis Island.