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Immigration and Health Policies in the 20th Century
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" (Lazarus 1998)
When you think of people struck by unbelievable hardships and misery, it might not be so hard to believe that a part of their soul dies with each passing day. But one should know that even if you experience the worst imaginable disaster and survive, there still exists a small light of hope in your mind. Without this light, it would be impossible to live on. So in a corner of every human being's mind, especially of those who came to leave their countries during the 20th-century, there existed a hope of something better - something new and permanent.
Their hope was to wake up every morning and see the sun rise over the American continent, watch it color the sky and spread its golden light throughout a nation of millions of people, offering them a bright future of new opportunities, but also to see the sunset and to know that they would be there the next morning. Their dreams would be a reality. They would no longer be unobtainable goals (Magnusson 2001).
The European immigrants' dream wasn't a new one. It was something that had grown into a concept, which till this day has enthralled people for centuries and probably will do so for many more. This dream which had sprung from the depth of their sufferings finally made millions of brave-minded people set out from their native countries, without knowing what was to come (Magnusson 2001).
These people of so many different nationalities joined together in an exodus stronger than most, with only their beliefs of the good faith of God to hold on to. They unconditionally let their lives become caught up in a dream more powerful than most, a dream that would bring them across the ocean to set their poor feet on the shores of the country of dreams. And as they did approach the harbor of New York and the view of the Statue of Liberty holding up its torch, there was nothing that could stop the tears from flowing down their cheeks (Magnusson 2001).
However, now the situation was different; the meaning of their tears had changed as their minds filled with joy - and smiles spread across their once sad faces. Even so, though their futures seemed so bright, their fates hadn't changed completely. There were still many fears to overcome and hardships to conquer. But these were probably nothing compared to the ones they had earlier experienced, as their faith once more rose from a small corner in their minds.
Parents diligently fought for a more agreeable future for their children and their grandchildren yet to come, all while struggling to keep their unifying traditions alive (Magnusson 2001). The generations to come blended the American beliefs with the ones from the distant countries on the other side of the Atlantic. Together these traditions formed the American culture of today, and the grandchildren of the immigrants truly fulfilled their ancestors' hopes, as they not only became true Americans in their hearts and souls but also in the eyes of the nation they had come to love.
Located in the upper New York Bay, a short distance from the New Jersey shore, Ellis Island was originally known to Native Americans as Kioshk, or Gull Island, named for the birds that were its only inhabitants (The Immigrant Journey 1995). Consisting of nothing more than three acres of soft mud and clay, it was so low that it barely rose above the high-tide level of the bay. The Dutch called it "Little Oyster Island," because of the delicious oysters found in its sands, and used it as a base for oystering. Because the island was not good for much other than its oysters - certainly it was not a prime building site - it changed independent ownership many times during the next century (The Immigrant Journey 1995). By means never officially determined, ownership passed into the hands of one Samuel Ellis about the time of the American Revolution. Ellis tried, unsuccessfully, to sell the island. He still owned the island when he died in 1794 (The Immigrant Journey 1995). On April 21, 1794, the city formally deeded the only part of the island that was publicly owned, a narrow strip of mud between the water and the high-tide mark, to the state. Samuel Ellis had actually drawn up a deed transferring ownership of his island to the state, but died before the deed could be completed (The Immigrant Journey 1995).
On June 8, 1808, the state of New York bought Ellis Island at the committee's recommended price, and was immediately reimbursed when the federal government took possession of the island on the same day. It was used only to store ammunition until, in 1890, it was chosen by the House committee on Immigration as the site of the new immigrant Station for the Port of New York (The Immigrant Journey 1995).
Personnel included immigration officers, interpreters, clerks, guards, matrons, gatekeepers, watchmen, and cooks, as well as maintenance staff such as engineers, firemen, painters, and gardeners. The huge medical staff numbered scores of doctors, nurses, and orderlies (The Immigrant Journey 1995). The number of employees varied with the number of incoming immigrants; the average staff ranged between five hundred and eight hundred-fifty people. Often, as immigration increased, the need was greater than the number of employees available. Most workers commuted to the island by ferryboat from Manhattan.
As superior as the new facilities were in comparison to the old accommodations, immigrants now faced stricter laws than ever before. A more comprehensive immigration law had been passed in the spring of 1891. In addition to the previously established categories of "undesirables," inspectors now also screened for polygamists, people with prison records for crimes involving "moral turpitude" and all "persons suffering from a loathsome or contagious disease" (The Immigrant Journey 1995). The Contract Labor Law of 1885 was stiffened to exclude immigrants who were entering the country at the encouragement of American employers; it was even illegal for American employers to advertise. While steamship companies had previously been held responsible for screening their passengers before leaving Europe, now they were also made responsible for returning deportees to their homeland and for the cost of their food and lodging while they were in detention here. Aliens who entered the country illegally or became public charges within a year of their arrival due to some preexisting condition before they landed were to be deported. Additional amendments were added to the law in 1893 (The Immigrant Journey 1995). The combination of this stricter law, a cholera scare in 1892, and the financial panic of 1893, followed by several years of economic depression, began to show its effect. The number of immigrants arriving in New York consistently decreased until the turn of the century. In 1892, Ellis Island welcomed 445,987 incoming foreigners; in contrast only 178,748 immigrants passed through the station in 1898 (The Immigrant Journey 1995).
On June 15, 1897, with two hundred immigrants on the island, a fire breaks out in one of the towers in the main building and the roof collapses. Though no one is killed, all immigration records dating back to 1840 and the Castle Garden era are destroyed. The Immigration Station is relocated to the Barge Office in Battery Park in Manhattan (Fuchs 1995).
On December 17, 1900, the New York Tribune offered a scathing account of conditions at the Battery station including "grimy, gloomy...more suggestive of an enclosure for animals than a receiving station for prospective citizens of the United States" (Fuchs 1995).
In response to this, New York architectural firm Boring & Tilton reconstructs the immigrant station and the new, fire proofed facility is officially opened in December as 2,251 people pass through on opening day. To prevent a similar situation from occurring again, Commissioner of Immigration William Williams cleans house on Ellis Island in 1902 - he awards contracts based on merit and announces contracts will be revoked if any dishonesty is suspected. He imposes penalties for any violation of this rule and posts "Kindness and Consideration" signs as reminders (The Immigrant Journey 1995).
On April 17, 1907, an all time daily high of 11,747 immigrants received is reached. Ellis Island experiences its highest number of immigrants received in a single year, with 1,004,756 arrivals. Federal law is passed excluding persons having physical and mental defects as well as children arriving without adults (The Immigrant Journey 1995).
Starting in 1917, Ellis Island operates as a hospital for the Army, a way station for Navy personnel and a detention center for enemy aliens. The literacy test is introduced at this time, and stays on the books until 1952. Those over the age of sixteen who cannot read thirty to…[continue]
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