A hundred and twenty-two years may seem a rather unremarkable anniversary to note. But because it is thoughtful and well written, I point you to a blog post about the opening of Ellis Island on January 1, 1892.
That facility in New York was to witness—or block—the passage of millions of people. But more than a way-station, Ellis Island has become an iconic element in the American imagination. And like most icons, its reality is a complex blend of joy and heartbreak.
As others have pointed out, Ellis communicates important messages about the vagaries of immigration law and the response of a nation to those who seek to join.
Here’s how the blog post opens:
“On January 1, 1892, Ellis Island opened to process the millions of immigrants entering New York. Although certainly not only entry point for immigrants, it was the primary location where the immigrants needed to labor in American factories first experienced the country. Annie Moore, an Irish immigrant, was the first person to go through processing that morning, one of over 12 million who would enter the country from this point before the facility closed in 1954.”
“In order to manage the enormous numbers, at the beginning of 1892, the federal government opened the processing facility at Ellis Island. Until 1890, the federal government played basically no role in immigration processing and the state of New York ran the precursor to Ellis Island. On the first day of the new facility’s opening, 700 immigrants passed through its gates; by the end of 1892, 450,000 had arrived and 1897, 1.5 million people. The peak year for Ellis Island was 1907, when slightly more than 1 million people were processed for entry at the site.”
“For immigrant labor, the experience of Ellis Island combined hope and dread. Here was the land of opportunity—if one could get in. Of course most did. But some did not. Immigrants, most of whom did not speak English, were often petrified at the process of medical checks and chalk marks on coats. If one member of the family received a special mark, would they be separated? Imagine the terror.”
For insight onto a modern-day analogue to our attitude toward immigration, I suggest you read this essay by Arizona Attorney’s own Roxie Bacon. In her magazine column, she relates the story of the Somali people behind the movie “Captain Phillips.” Clearly, our complicated attitude toward immigration has barely shifted.Follow @azatty