Ellis Island—why did it close?
For decades, Ellis Island marked the beginning of a new life in America for millions of immigrants. “It has been estimated that nearly half of all Americans today can trace their family history to at least one person who passed through the Port of New York at Ellis Island,” writes The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation on its Web site.
The Ellis Island Immigration Station officially opened on Jan. 1, 1892. “The first immigrant to pass through Ellis was a ‘rosy-cheeked Irish girl,’ Annie Moore, age 15, from County Cork,” says The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. Seven hundred other immigrants passed through Ellis Island that first day, and half a million immigrants passed through the Island in the first year.
When the United States entered World War I, Ellis Island was used to detain suspected enemy aliens and crews from German merchant ships. Later, the military “took over most of Ellis Island for use as a way station and treatment of returning sick and wounded American servicemen,” the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation said.
Once the war was over, immigration quickly revived and more than 560,000 immigrants came through Ellis Island in 1921. Despite this, new immigration quota laws limiting the number of immigrants made administering immigrants at Ellis Island more difficult. The Immigration Act of 1924 restricted immigration even further and marked the end of mass immigration to the United States.
This meant the end of Ellis Island as an immigration processing station. After 1924, Ellis Island became the “center of the assembly, detention, and deportation of aliens who had entered the U.S. illegally or had violated the terms of admittance,” says The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. In the next several decades, the buildings at Ellis Island began to fall into disuse and bad condition.
Ellis Island once again saw itself as a detention center for alien enemies during World War II. After the Internal Security Act of 1950, which banned immigrants who had been members of Communist and Fascist organizations, and the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952, fewer and fewer people came through Ellis Island. In November 1954, Ellis Island closed its doors.
However in 1965, President Johnson added Ellis Island to the Statue of Liberty National Monument, and in 1976, Ellis Island opened its doors to the public for visits. Since then, Ellis Island has opened a museum and launched a Web site, www.ellisisland.org, giving people access to the records of millions of immigrants who came through the Island between 1892 and 1924. The Web site has already had over 12 billion hits since launching in 2001.
Along with the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island remains America’s most prominent symbol of immigrants and the immigrant experience. Ellis Island has given more than 25 million immigrants their first moments in America. No matter where they were from or where they were going, they all came to know Ellis Island as the “Gateway to America.”
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Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada