Every country in the world has some landmark monument which constitutes the identity of the country. For example; whenever on sees the Eifel Tower, one is reminded of France. Similarly when one talks about the Statue of Liberty, the name of the United States of America is the first name which comes to mind. The statue of Liberty in Ellis Island and New York has become synonymous with each other.
However Ellis Island is not famous for the statue alone. It opened in 1892 as a federal immigration station and functioned as such till 1954 when it was closed. In fact every immigrant to the United States had to pass through this station. It is estimated that more than a million might have passed through during that time. It is said that today close to 40% of current American citizens can trace at least one ancestor to Ellis Island.
In the mate nineteenth century and early twentieth century the world was in deep turmoil. There were immigrants moving from place to place in search of safe locations. It is always said that America is the land of dreams. Hence a lot of immigrants found their way towards Ellis Island. Immigrants from all over Europe as well as Asia left their homes due to war, drought and religious persecution and hoped to settle down in America.
During those times, voyage was by sea alone. Thousands of immigrants used to reach Ellis Island where each immigrant was checked for medical problems. Those found fit had to pass through long lines for legal inspections before being allowed into the country. Those found unfit were detained for treatment or deportation. It was an arduous process but this check was necessary to avoid the spread of epidemics in America. People admitted into the country either stayed back in New York or travelled to other destinations such as New Jersey etc.
Sensing that immigration was going out of control, the US Administration passed the Immigrant Quota Act of 1921 and the National Origins Act of 1924 which envisaged a cap on the number of immigrants to be allowed into the country. This effectively ended the mass immigration from 1925 onwards and the island was closed in 1954.
In 1976 the island was again opened for the public as a museum where tourists could see with their own eyes and envisage how their ancestors might have entered into the country. There is a facility where one can trace one’s ancestors by browsing through the records. Some of the famous names that passed through this gateway were composer Irving Berlin, actor Cary Grant, psychologist Sigmund Freud and world famous comedian Charlie Chaplin.
One can have a glimpse at the timeline of Ellis Island:
1630-1770: Dutchman Michael Paauw acquires this island and renames it Oyster Island. During the 1700’s the name changed to Gibbet Island.
1775-1865: Used as an ammunition arsenal for the Union Army during the Civil War. Naturalization Act passed in 1790.
1865-1892: Island remains vacant. Island renamed as Castle Garden.
1892: Ellis Island Immigration station opens on January 01.
1892-1954: Functioning of the Immigration station till 1954 when it was closed down.
1965-1976: Declared as part of Statue of Liberty National Monument. In 1976 it opens to the public for viewing as a museum.
1982-1990: The US Administration under President Ronald Reagan works towards restoration and preservation of the Island and the Statue of Liberty.
1998: US Supreme Court ruling bifurcate the Island with the south side going to New Jersey and the rest being retained by New York.
2001: The American Family Immigration History Center opens on Ellis Island.
2008: Plans are announced for the expansion of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.