This document is about Immigration.
| Immigration to America began about 50 years after the War between the States. Initially, the reception center for immigrants was at Castle Garden, but after 1892, immigrants were passed through Ellis Island. Immigrants (people who want to come to a new country to live) wanted to come to America for a number of reasons: religious freedom, family reunification, and economic opportunity. Ellis Island was considered the Island of Hope to those coming to America with dream of a better life. However, before they could begin their new life, the immigrants had to pass inspection at Ellis Island (as well as Angel Island in San Francisco, and other entry points in Boston, Providence, Baltimore, and Philadelphia) with entry being governed by regulations and guidelines set by the U. S. Supreme Court. The personal accounts of immigrants seem to all share some similar details: the difficult journey to America, the confusion and apprehension of entering Ellis Island, and the symbolism of freedom found in the Statue of Liberty.
On the journey to America, immigrants were kept in crowded, unsanitary ships. Most immigrants could not afford to pay a lot of money to get to Ellis Island; they rode in the steerage section (the bottom section of the boat - below sea level). Steerage was crowded, cold and damp. There was little fresh water throughout the ship. In some sections of the ship, the food the steam ship company provided was often covered with maggots (insect larvae).
Immigrants entering Ellis Island experienced mixed emotions, those of excitement and anxiety. "There was not a smile on anybody's face. Here, they thought maybe they wouldn't go through. There, they thought maybe my child won't go through. Oh, did I cry" (Fannie Kligerman, age 13, 1905.) All immigrants underwent a general health inspection upon entry. If an inspector decided that further examination was needed in a particular area, the immigrant's coat was marked with chalk (e.g. 'B' for back, 'E' for eyes, 'Sc' for scalp.) The most dreaded inspection was the 'button hook test' in which inspectors turned up the eyelids with a button hook to examine for a contagious eye disease called trachoma that could lead to blindness. Those who passed the medical tests proceeded to the Great Hall. Finally, the immigrants were asked 29 questions, including name, age, financial status, final destination, and if they had a job waiting for them. Though immigrants were required to show they could support themselves, it was illegal for them to accept a job before they arrived. Most immigrants passed through Ellis Island within three to five hours. However, about twenty out of every hundred were detained on the Island for further inspection. Those who were detained, but eventually allowed to leave Ellis Island, were often met by relatives at the 'Kissing Post'.
The Statue of Liberty, designed by Frederic Bartholdi and a gift from France to the U.S. , is supposedly the goddess of Libertas, which symbolized freedom. After 1886, sometimes immigrants aboard the incoming ship would compete to be the first to spot the Statue of Liberty. (Poor immigrants were required to stay to the back because people believed it wasn't proper for them to be so close to a national symbol.) A Russian immigrant wrote "The sunshine started and what do we see? The Statue of Liberty! Well, she was beautiful with the early morning light. Everybody was crying. The whole boat went toward her, everybody went out, everybody was in the same spot" (Sarah Asher, 1922) Lady Liberty was the 'welcome sign' to America.
Immigrants came to America with the expectation of what America had to offer them. However, America, in turn, benefited from the contributions made to society by so many of these people. A few of the most well-known are Ludwig Bemelmans, who wrote and illustrated the Madeline books, Bob Hope who a made a profound contribution to the entertainment industry as actor and comedian, Irving Berlin, who wrote 'God Bless America', and Baron Von Trapp, whose life story inspired the classic film 'Sound of Music'. There have always been, and probably always will be, Americans who object to immigration. Though some arguments have valid points, none can dispute the positive influence of so many immigrants made to our American society. On November 12, 1954, Ellis Island closed for good. It was later restored and re-opened to the public in 1990.