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Historic Melting Pot: Ellis Island

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 1

Millions of immigrants arrived in the United States via ships that docked in New York City. Those passengers considered first and second class who were free of medical or legal problems were allowed to disembark at the East River or Hudson piers. Everyone else went to Ellis Island for further inspection. They were ferried or put on a barge from the piers, and eventually had a medical and legal inspection to verify their new citizenship status. The island became a historic melting pot, or an immigration station from 1892 until November 12th, 1954.

Some United States History Then
The shift form an agrarian society to an industrial nation enhanced the U.S. influx of foreigners. In 1900, fourteen million immigrants came to the rising industrial nation. Soon after the progression of the shift, a reform age took place. State and Federal laws and regulations were enacted. The U.S. began the extension of state functions such as laws governing work conditions, hours, and wages. During the term of President Woodrow Wilson (1913 - 1921) the Federal Reserve System was established which gave the federal government decision making regulations that were formerly reserved by the bankers.

New immigration laws cropped up too. The Immigration Act of 1917 excluded entry to the United States for: "all idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons, epileptics, insane persons; persons who have had one or more attacks of insanity at any time previously; persons of constitutional psychopathic inferiority; persons with chronic alcoholism; paupers; professional beggars; vagrants; persons afflicted with tuberculosis in any form or with a loathsome or dangerous contagious disease; persons not comprehended within any of the foregoing excluded classes who are found to be and are certified by the examining surgeon as being mentally or physically defective, such physical defect being of a nature which may affect the ability of such alien to earn a living; persons who have been convicted of or admit having committed a felony or other crime or misdemeanor involving moral turpitude; polygamists, or persons who practice polygamy or believe in or advocate the practice of polygamy; anarchists, or persons who believe in or advocate the overthrow by force or violence of the Government of the United States".

A very controversial aspect to the act was the proposal to exclude all "aliens over sixteen years of age, physically capable of reading, who cannot read the English language, or some other language or dialect, including Hebrew or Yiddish." Thus the national sentiment was growing towards further restrictions as The Immigration Act of 1924 was enacted.

SUMMARY of the 1924 Immigration Act
The 1924 Immigration Act set quotas that limited annual immigration from particular countries. The legislation identified who could enter as a "non-quota" immigrant; this category included wives and unmarried children (under 18 years of age) of US citizens, residents of the Western hemisphere, religious or academic professionals, and "bona-fide students" under 15 years of age. Those not in any of these categories were referred to as a "quota immigrant" and were subject to annual numerical limitations.
For quota immigrants, the Act stated that preference would be given to family members of US citizens and to immigrants who were skilled in agriculture.
Quotas were to be calculated as follows:
Until July 1st, 1927, allowable annual quotas for each nationality would be two percent of the total population of that nationality as recorded in the 1890 Census. The minimum quota was 100.
After July 1st, 1927, allowable annual quotas for each nationality would be based on the national origins - 'by birth or ancestry' - of the total US population as recorded in 1920. The overall quota of 150,000 immigrants would be divided between countries in proportion to the ancestry of the 1920 population, with a minimum quota of 100.

(Summary by Catherine Marcos and Tracy Nguyen)

Ellis Island (32569)

Ellis Island had the above nickname because some would be immigrants were sent back and not allowed entry to the U.S. A criminal background, insanity or unskilled people were some of the reasons they were turned away. They were asked 29 questions including their occupation, and the amount of money they had. Some who were visibly ill were sent to the island's hospital, and some died there. Imagine what that would be like after such a long voyage! Mostly the immigrants only stayed on Ellis Island for a few hours to get processed.

Ellis Island Museum
There are many books about the experience, and there is a museum of immigration at the site now (since 1990) run by the National Park Service as part of the Statue of Liberty national monument. There is an interactive area at the museum with access to passenger and crewmember records, so it is good to arrive with as much information as possible (passenger name, ship name, date, etc.). More information about a tour and the museum highlights are easily found at Visiting the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.



Nov 15, 2010 7:01pm
Wonderfully written article. I hope it urges more people to visit the museum. I've done it and the experience is very moving.
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