Immigrants are people who migrate to a foreign country to reside permanently. For many decades, immigrants have been journeying from all over the world to come to the United States. They are the vast majority of our country and they make this country diverse. In 1808, Ellis Island, located in New York City, was purchased by the U.S. Federal Government to be the site for an immigrant screening station. Ellis Island would be the first official immigration arrival site in the United States. A little over a century later, Angel Island would open across the country in San Francisco Bay. Angel Island would be the second immigration arrival site for immigrants in the United States. The predominance of the immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island were Europeans, and Angel Island received more Asian immigrants. Throughout this process, immigrants were belittled and treated unfairly. The entry points were hazardous, some immigrants would not make it into the country due to discrimination, and if so, they were outcasts to the foreign country. Immigrants were mistreated during their processing at Ellis and Angel Island and were taken advantage of because of their ignorance of the process.
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Initially, Ellis Island was not safe for the immigrants to stay in overnight, whilst waiting for their appeal to be approved. Most, if not all, immigrants who had arrived at the island had to stay overnight due to the mass amounts of incoming foreigners. Since the process of inspection on the island was slow, the immigrants had nowhere to go while being processed, so they had to stay in the damaged building. Ellis Island opened in the early 1800s so the architectural quality was not superb. In the UXL Encyclopedia of U.S. History, Benson reports, “Many testimonies from doctors, immigrants, and immigration officials show that Ellis Island had faulty roofs and other problems with the structure of the two-story building. Although the bureaucracy had expanded the island from its original state of three acres to fourteen acres, the building itself was not rooted well” (Benson 494). Benson hears these testimonies and reports, “The doctors, in addition to other immigration officials, complained about the leaky roof and other structural problems… [the] roof was in danger of collapsing” (Benson 494). She also continues to report that, “because the building was used to process immigrants and nothing more, Ellis Island officials were hesitant to invest more money into it” (Benson 494). These fragments from Benson’s writing emphasizes how the immigrants were mistreated. The government did not want to invest their money into the place that sheltered these newcomers overnight and they were neglectful to them. It was not until 1897, five years after the island opened to immigrants that the U.S. government decided to add safe sheltering for the waiting to be processed immigrants. This would be the start of the endless years of oppression towards the immigrants.
Consequently, immigrants faced discrimination at Ellis and Angel Island. Many of the foreigners who entered from Angel Island were Asians since the San Francisco Bay is closer geographically to Asia then Ellis Island. As immigrants were journeying to Angel Island, a myriad of them were sent back to their home countries, no questions asked. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed against Chinese people as a whole. The government believed the Chinese laborers to be an ‘endangerment to the good order of certain localities within the territory.’ The Chinese Exclusion Act came to when the Chinese people were accused of degrading the economic conditions in the United States in the 1870s. This exclusion act prevented many Chinese people, men, and women alike, from entering the country. The act was enforced for ten years, in which this time the Chinese could not enter the country, nor could Chinese residents become citizens. In Chinese Exclusion Act 1882, K. Lee Lerner transcribes, “The act- the first piece of federal legislation that singled out one immigrant group- dictated Chinese immigration for the next sixty years” (Lerner 81). Lerner’s phrase in this article shows the significance of the exclusion act and how much of an impact it made on the Chinese people, and also the country as a whole. Not only was this law discriminatory towards the Chinese, but it also shined a light on the presence of nativism in our country. Nativism is the act of favoring the interests of native-born Americans over those of immigrants. Nativism has become apparent and proven to be true with the passing of the exclusion act that was solely discriminatory against the Chinese immigrants. In Immigration and Multiculturalism: Essential Primary Sources, Lerner addresses the further discrimination that the poorer and lower class people faced when arriving. Lerner scribes, “Passengers on ships were separated by nationality and financial status. Those with higher-class tickets were quickly processed and allowed to enter the United States… the rest of the immigrants… from elsewhere who did not meet financial or health requirements were ferried to Angel Island, where they were isolated from people on the mainland” (Lerner 153). This citation further enhances the amount of discrimination that the immigrants faced. Those who were of higher class were processed faster than those who were of the lower class because they were deemed unimportant. Additionally, immigrants at Ellis Island were also victimized and oppressed. In 1921, the Quota Laws were passed in an attempt to reduce the larger numbers of immigrants from Poland and Italy. Lerner also wrote, “These laws attempted to reduce the large number of immigrants from countries such as Poland and Italy, in eastern and southern Europe, as they were considered inferior to those who came from the more traditional immigrant countries in western and northern Europe” (Lerner 136). This law was also passed to treat the Polish and Italians as inferiors to the United States. The discrimination that was targeted at the immigrants lead to their continuous mistreatment.
Lastly, immigrants did not feel welcomed when finally granted entry to the United States. Although America advertises itself as the land of the immigrants, those immigrants were unembraced as they started to adjust to the new community. A great deal of these immigrants often finds hospitality in ethnic neighborhoods, where they can be surrounded by memories of their hometown. In Lawrence Bakers, Introduction: The Nation of Immigrants, Baker speaks on behalf of those immigrants who do not necessarily always blend in. Baker explains that although America is viewed as a ‘melting pot,’ that not all of the incoming immigrants feel as though they have a place in the states. Baker makes a note of saying, “The United States has a long-standing tradition of ethnic communities, sections of cities or towns in which people from a common racial, national, tribal, religious, or language group live together and practice their own customs” (Baker 2). These ethnic neighborhoods are the foreigners little get-away from the mixed cultures that they are not accustomed to yet. Therefore this disproves the theory that all immigrants are welcomed with open arms because it’s not easy leaving everything behind and start a new life in a supervenient country.
In summation, the commencement of the first official immigration sites would ultimately be the commencement of the unfair treatment and belittling of immigrants in the United States. Ellis and Angel Island were both opened in hope of welcoming the new immigrants and although they provided the immigrant’ numerous opportunities, there were also traumatizing factors. From the immigration ports being ramshackle to the discrimination at the ports to the adaptation of the foreign land, immigrants were truly treated immorally and unjustly.
- “Angel Island.” Immigration and Multiculturalism: Essential Primary Sources, edited by K. Lee Lerner, et al., Gale, 2006, pp. 152-154. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX2688400071/GVRL?u=edis27774&sid=GVRL&xid=68a5afa5. Accessed 30 Apr. 2019.
- Benson, Sonia, et al. “Ellis Island.” UXL Encyclopedia of U.S. History, vol. 3, UXL, 2009, pp. 494-496. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3048900197/GVRL ?u=edis27774&sid=GVRL&xid=b6d732d5. Accessed 29 Apr. 2019.
- “Chinese Exclusion Act 1882.” Immigration and Multiculturalism: Essential Primary Sources, edited by K. Lee Lerner, et al., Gale, 2006, pp. 78-82. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX2688400045/GVRL?u=edis27774&sid=GVRL&xid=37f3f2d2. Accessed 28 Apr. 2019.
- “Introduction: The Nation of Immigrants.” U.S. Immigration and Migration Reference Library, edited by Lawrence W. Baker, et al., vol. 1: Vol. 1: Almanac, UXL, 2004, pp. 1-29. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3436800010/GVRL?u=edis27774&sid=GVRL&xid=7ba862e5. Accessed 30 Apr. 2019.
- “Processing Immigrant Arrivals at Ellis Island.” Immigration and Multiculturalism: Essential Primary Sources, edited by K. Lee Lerner, et al., Gale, 2006, pp. 135-137. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX2688400065/GVRL?u=edis27774&sid=GVRL&xid=171f8c53. Accessed 28 Mar. 2019.
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