Exploration and Settlement

American Immigration

What did immigrants experience at Ellis Island?

The Ellis Island immigration depot was a processing center for third-class ship passengers arriving in New York Harbor. (Most first-and second-class passengers were processed by immigration officials on board their ships.) The new arrivals were ferried from their transatlantic vessels to Ellis Island, where they disembarked and were guided in groups into registration areas in the Great Hall, a room 200 feet long and 100 feet wide. There they were questioned by government officials who determined their eligibility to land. Upon completing the registration process, newcomers were ushered into rooms where they were examined by doctors. The processing was extremely businesslike—to the point of being dehumanizing. Processing typically took between three and five hours. An estimated 98 percent of those arriving at Ellis Island were allowed into the country. The remaining 2 percent were turned back for medical reasons (as U.S. health officials tried to keep out infectious diseases) or for reasons of insanity or criminal record. Other facilities at the Ellis Island Immigration Station included showers that could accommodate as many as 8,000 bathers a day, restaurants, railroad-ticket offices, a laundry, and a hospital. At its peak, the Ellis Island station processed some 5,000 immigrants and nonimmigrating aliens (visitors) daily.


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