So how was immigration handled on Ellis Island? Many false rumors exist about the processing procedure, so what are the facts?
Ellis Island immigration process began on 2 January, 1892 when the immigration center was opened on Ellis Island situated on the New Jersey side of Upper New York Bay, U.S. Over 15 million immigrants passed were processed between 1892 and 1954.
The first immigrant to pass through the vetting process was Annie Moore, a 15 year old girl from County Cork in Ireland. The immigrants who went through the Ellis Island Immigration Process, within sight of the Statue of Liberty, were subjected to medical and legal examinations. It was given the nickname of the “Island of Tears”.
Ellis Island Immigration Process
Benjamin Harrison was the 23rd American President who served in office from March 4, 1889 to March 4, 1893. One of the important events during his presidency was the opening of Ellis Island immigration center in New York. This article provides facts about the immigrants to the United States and the Ellis Island immigration process.
Fast Fact Sheet
Location: New Jersey side of Upper New York Bay, U.S.
What was the process? A medical and legal inspection
Who went through the process? Steerage and third class passengers – 1st and 2nd class passengers did not
Who was the first immigrant to be processed? Annie Moore
Who was the last immigrant to be processed? Arne Peterssen
How many immigrants were processed? 15 Million
Where did the inspections take place? the Registry Room (or Great Hall)
Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1882 which was the first comprehensive immigration law to restrict immigrants from Europe. This was followed by the Immigration Act of 1891 which regulated immigration even further.
Ellis Island Immigration Process: The Steps
The First and Second Class passengers were not required to undergo the inspection procedure – they were quickly checked on board then went straight to customs and into the United States. Only those who were extremely sick or with legal issues were referred to Ellis Island.
Arrival: Steerage, or third class passengers, had to undergo the inspection procedure. The stream of immigrants was endless – up to 10,000 people in a day. The procedure and method of testing new immigrants had to be fast. Up to 850 staff, including interpreters, worked in the center.
The Piers: The migrants were transported from the piers by ferries or barge to Ellis Island where everyone would undergo a legal and medical inspection.
The Labels: Every immigrant was labeled with their name and the name of the ship on which they arrived.
The Baggage Room: Immigrants entered the main building through the baggage room where they left their trunks, suitcases and baskets to be claimed after the tests.
Ellis Island Immigration Process Steps: Families Separated: The men were separated from the women and children.
Stairway to the Great Hall: Although the immigrants did not know it inspection began as they climbed the steep flight of stairs and into the great hall of the Registry Room. Doctors would make an initial inspection looking for signs of a medical problem or disability and checking whether anyone was wheezing, out of breathe, coughing, scratching, shuffling or limping.
Chalk Marks: If a problem was detected (in roughly 2 out of 10) in the initial medical inspection their coat lapel or shirt marked with a letter code in colored chalk to indicate the problem. The doctors developed a code to indicate 60 problems that warranted more investigation.
“H” for heart problems
“K” for hernias
“Sc” for scalp problems
“X” for mental disability
“Pg” for pregnant
Physical or mental examination rooms: Those with chalk marks were segregated to await further medical tests in the physical or mental examination rooms. Those suspected of having a contagious disease was set aside in a cage apart from the rest of the immigrants.
Medical problems: The type of medical problems that caused concern were cholera, favus (scalp and nail fungus), insanity, tuberculosis, epilepsy, and trachoma, a highly contagious eye infection that could cause blindness and death.
The Hospital: If a medical problem was curable, immigrants were sent to the island’s hospital
Deportation: Those with incurable or disabling ailments were excluded from entry and returned to their port of departure at the expense of the shipping line on which they arrived. Only 80,000 immigrants (2%) were barred from entry to the Untied States for diseases or defects – an extremely small proportion
The Great Hall: The immigrants were then herded into the Registry Room (or Great Hall) where the verbal inspections took place.
The Legal Inspection: Inspectors used a list of 32 questions to determine if an immigrant should be admitted to America. These included their identity, place of origin, occupation, financial status and their planned destination in the United States. Inspectors rejected any immigrant with a criminal record.
Detention in Dormitories: People were detained on Ellis Island for a variety of reasons. Some were sent to the hospital, women and children on their own would be detained until their safety was guaranteed by the arrival of a telegram, letter, or a ticket from a relative in the United States. Others were waiting for confirmation of their status.
The Stairs of Separation: After inspection, immigrants descended from the Great Hall down the “Stairs of Separation” so called because they marked the parting of the way for many family and friends with different destinations. Immigrants were either sent to the island’s hospital and detention rooms or were granted entry into the United States.
Baggage Reclaim: After passing the tests and inspections people were allowed to reclaim their baggage.
Money Exchange: Laws passed in 1909 required each immigrant to have at least $20 before they were allowed to enter America. In the money exchange area immigrants exchanged foreign currency for dollars, and purchased any train tickets they needed
The Exit and the Kissing Post: The Kissing Post was the name given to the exit from Ellis Island. It was where many happy reunions were made between immigrants and their welcoming relatives.
New Americans: Most of the new Americans took a ferry to New Jersey to begin their journeys to the destinations in the United States. The remaining immigrants boarded the ferry to Manhattan, only one mile away, to begin their new life in New York City.
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