Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Ellis Island

1) Ellis Island, 1907-1912. Immigrants seated in the Main Hall at the U.S. Immigration Station (New York Public Library). 2) Current Ellis Island. The Current Main Hall where immigrants use to wait (Flickr 3) The Ellis Island Museum opened to the public in 1990 (Flickr).

Ellis Island was the chief immigration station of the United States from 1852 to 1954. When arriving at the island, if the immigrants’ papers were in order and they were in good health, the process lasted from 3-5 hours. Two agencies, the United States Public Health Service and the United States Bureau of Immigration, were responsible for processing the immigrants. Doctors would examine immigrants with “six second physicals.” The doctors would briefly scan each immigrant for any obvious physical ailments. A document that contained the immigrant’s name and answers to 29 questions were used by legal inspectors at the island. These documents were used to cross-examine the immigrant for the legal portion of the examination. Over 40% of the population today descends from the 12 million that passed through. However due to the increasing number of immigrants, threatened nativists triggered the restrictioninst movement. The nativists pushed for the literacy test, which proved to be defective, so they labored on radically different mechanisms. In return they passed two major quota laws. The First Quota Act of 1921 reduced immigration to 350,000 admissions a year. The second act in 1924, restricted immigration to 150,000 a year. These were especially strict upon Southern and Eastern Europeans. Also, they pushed to deny entry to “aliens ineligible to citizenship.” This reaffirmed Chinese and Japanese exclusion. All of these restrictions in Ellis Island introduced “national origins,” and maintaining the nation’s ethnic composition. It also brought up racism and the question of who was marked as undesirable.

Today, Ellis Island now holds the three story Ellis Island Immigration museum. It is easily accessible by the ferries that operate 7 days a week from 9:30AM to 5:00PM. The ferries depart from Battery Park in Manhattan and Liberty Park in New Jersey. It was created in 1990 and is incorporated into the Statue of Liberty National monument. Many of the contributions in the museum are from the immigrants and their descendants themselves. The contributions vary from historic photographs, steamship tickets, citizenship papers, clothing, and other personal items. The museum validates their past, and gives them a sense of who they are and what America is.

- Lucy Li and Grace Park


Yans-Mclaughlin, Virginia and Marjorie Lightman. Ellis Island and the peopling of America. New York: The New Press, 1977. Print.

Shapiro, Mary J. Ellis Island: An Illustrated History of the Immigrant Experience. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991. Print.

Ngai, Mae. Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2004. Print.

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