Laws and Regulations

Law books sitting on a bookshelf in a library.

To protect the health of people living in the United States, Congress passed certain laws giving the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) the authority to prevent the introduction and spread of contagious diseases in the United States. The HHS Secretary delegated this authority to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and operations are carried out by the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine (DGMQ) within CDC. DGMQ works to fulfill this responsibility through its operations at ports of entry, administration of interstate and foreign quarantine regulations, and establishment of requirements for the medical examination of individuals coming to live and work in the United States.

Federal regulations apply to the following if they are coming in to the United States from another country by land, air, or sea:

  • Any person (including U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, and foreign nationals)
  • Conveyances (airplane, ship, bus, or train)
  • Animals regulated by CDC
  • Articles (bushmeat, hunting trophies, or other animal products made from CDC-regulated animals; some goatskin drums; and other items that might be infectious to people)

Specific Laws and Regulations under DGMQ’s mission

Immigrant, Refugee, and Migrant Health

DGMQ supports medical examination requirements of individuals coming to live and work in the United States. DGMQ develops medical screening protocols for physicians who provide these examinations. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), along with the Public Health Service Act, gives the federal government the authority to issue guidelines explaining the requirements for these medical exams.

Quarantine and Border Health Services

Federal regulations allow staff at U.S. Quarantine Stations to take certain actions to limit the introduction and spread of contagious diseases in the United States. Quarantine stations provide the first line of defense against the introduction of serious contagious diseases, such as Ebola or Middle East respiratory syndrome, into the United States. These quarantine stations, located at major U.S. ports of entry, serve as a focal point for responses to potential infectious disease outbreaks that may be caused by sick or exposed travelers or certain imported items.


Imported items can sometimes introduce diseases that are a severe threat to public health. As a result, CDC has the authority to restrict several types of items from importation to the United States. These items include certain animals and products made from these animals that could pose a public health risk.

International Health Regulations

The International Health Regulations,External or IHR (2005), represent an agreement between 196 countries, including all World Health Organization Member States, to work together for global health security by preventing serious public health threats from spreading beyond a single country’s border to other parts of the world. Such serious public health threats are defined as public health emergencies of international concern, or PHEIC. Through the IHR, all countries have agreed to build key public health capacities to prevent, detect, and respond to these emergencies. The IHR also include specific measures at ports, airports, and ground crossings to limit the spread of health risks to neighboring countries. The U.S. government has also designated CDC Quarantine Stations as the authority for implementing the IHR and preventing unwarranted travel and trade restrictions so that traffic and trade disruption is kept to a minimum.