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8.12.5 Awaiting examination, Ellis Island

Men, women, and children with baggage awaiting examination at the Ellis Island immigration station.
between 1907 and 1921
Photographic Print
Library of Congress

Awaiting examination, Ellis Island. [Between 1907 and 1921]. Photograph. Library of Congress.

More than 12 million immigrants came through Ellis Island before settling in the United States. These immigrants came from all over the world, but the majority of them arrived from Europe. Entire families often immigrated together, planning to permanently relocate in the US. It took most arrivals anywhere from three to seven hours to be processed by immigration authorities. As a result, hopeful immigrants could expect to spend their first night somewhere in New York City, on their way to establishing their new life. What do you notice about these hopeful immigrants?
At Ellis Island, immigration inspectors interviewed immigrants to gauge whether they had a criminal background or posed a political threat to the country. Doctors examined arrivals to confirm physical and mental fitness. Interpreters were on hand to help translate for immigrants who could not communicate in English, and social workers also spent time at Ellis Island trying to help smooth the transition for the newly arrived immigrants by offering guidance and advice, and sometimes clothing, food, money, and more. Ellis Island opened in 1892 in response to the recent uptick in immigration. Throughout the 1880s, 5.2 million people immigrated to the United States, which was almost twice as many as had arrived in the several decades before. Close to 4 million people immigrated in the 1890s, and almost 9 million in the first decade of the twentieth century. These numbers prompted the federal government to create for the first time immigration quotas, first established in 1921 and reiterated in a 1924 immigration law.

Awaiting examination, Ellis Island