- from Ellis Island
From 1892 to 1954, more than 12 million people landed on a tiny island in New York City’s harbor. They were all immigrants. They were men, women, and children who had left their native lands to come to the United States.
Some, like the Jews of Eastern Europe, were running from religious persecution. Others were fleeing famine. Many hoped to make more money. To all of them, Ellis Island was the island of hope. Here, they first set foot in what they hoped would become their new country. They were confused and scared as they faced the tests that would decide if they could stay.
Who decided which immigrants could remain in the “promised land” and which were unwelcome? In its early years, the U.S. had no national laws about immigration. Each state controlled immigration within its borders. New York, with the most immigrants, led the way in setting up regulations. However, in 1876, the U.S. Supreme Court said all state immigration laws were unconstitutional. In 1891, the federal government established the office of Superintendent of Immigration. The next year, Ellis Island opened for business.