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This project will outline the mass immigration to America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This is when immigration stations were put in place, enabling the American government to work to manage the newcomers sailing in from all over Europe and Asia. From 1850 to 1954, the United States government restricted immigration through immigration stations and implementing new policies for who was allowed to enter by the stations.

The immigration stations covered in this project began in 1855, when Castle Garden, also known as Castle Clinton, was turned from a Manhattan fort into a designated immigration station. Castle Garden worked to examine all incoming immigrants to make sure they were “acceptable” under American standards, meaning health, race, and even working skills [1]. This immigration station was put in place after the immigration rate skyrocketed, and with that, more ill and deceased immigrants were being discovered on immigration boats. It proved too large of a task for just the US Customs Service to handle as the only processing done by the Customs agency was requiring a passenger list from the captain. Castle Garden’s Emigrant Landing Depot was put in place as a response to people taking advantage of the immigrants as they arrived on the shores of New York, making Castle Garden the first official American immigration station. It operated until 1890, after the numbers of immigrants entering the country relentlessly increased, and Castle Garden was seen unfit for handling such climbing numbers. The station was ultimately replaced by Ellis Island.

In 1890, President Benjamin Harrison declared Ellis Island a federal immigration station, but it was not until 1892 that it was opened, beginning its job as the country’s busiest immigration spot. Ellis Island was a New York Port that had the highest rate of immigrants entering, processing over twelve million immigrants during its operating years [2]. As a result of Ellis Island’s location off the Atlantic Ocean, most of the immigrants entering the country there were of European decent. These immigrants were processed and slowly acclimated into American society through the resources on the Island. Immigrants that were believed to be ill were forced to be quarantined in the hospital on the island to avoid further spreading of the illness, leading to the deaths of about 3500 people on the island [3]. Ellis Island was the most popular place for immigrants to go through because it had the most resources and low Asian immigrant population, meaning the governmental regulations on Asian immigration did not have much impact on the overall influx of immigrants.

Before Ellis Island was built, President Chester Arthur created the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 that mostly impacted West Coast immigration stations. This act prohibited immigrant laborers from China from entering the United States after a large Chinese population came to California for the Gold Rush [4]. Lots of disappointment followed the scarce gold findings and American citizens found the new bout of immigrants to be a nuisance. This new addition to the population was not looked at fondly by Americans, as they saw the Chinese as competitors for their jobs and resources, leading to President Arthur’s implementation of the Exclusion Act [5]. This was heavily enforced at immigration stations across America, especially Angel Island on the Pacific Ocean.

Angel Island was founded in 1910 and primarily saw immigrants coming from Asian countries as it was located in the San Francisco Bay. The main purpose behind Angel Island was to enforce the Chinese Exclusion Act in California. About 175,000 Chinese and 150,000 Japanese immigrants were processed through Angel Island. Many of these immigrants were kept in gruesome conditions for weeks if they had insufficient funds for their desired journeys [6]. Angel Island was one, if not the most, exclusive immigration stations because instead of being designed to process people, it was designed to exclude people.

Despite the poor treatment of immigrants in the country, the immigrant population continued to grow. Americans viewed immigrants, specifically Asian immigrants as physically and mentally undesirable. In 1917, Congress required that all incoming immigrants pass literacy tests in order to be admitted into the country. This brought down immigration rates drastically, as it even increased the “head tax” required to enter the country. This climbing entry fee partnered with an education test assured that virtually no one below a specific economic level would be permitted to enter the United States.

The Immigration Act of 1924, also known as the Johnson-Reed Act, brought the numbers so low, incoming immigrants seemed virtually nonexistent compared to the numbers it had reached before. This immigration act prohibited stations from allowing no more than two percent of each nationality’s foreign-born population in America’s census [7]. This then favored European immigrants and continued to restrict Asian immigrants as the European population was far larger than the Asian population after the Exclusion Act was implemented.

The immigrants that went through immigration stations and were subject to new restrictive policies tended to be less affluent. The wealthier immigrants could pass literacy tests and pay their way through the troubles of immigration stations. This allowed for an elitist society to be put in place through immigration stations and governmental immigration regulations.

Overall, this project will focus on three major immigration stations: Ellis Island, Angel Island and Castle Garden. It will also cover three immigration regulation put in place by the American government that the stations were required to enforce: The Chinese Exclusion Act, The Literacy Tests of 1917 and The Immigration Act of 1924.

[1] “Castle Garden.” Castle Garden. Accessed May 09, 2019.

[2] Editors, “U.S. Immigration Timeline.” December 21, 2018. Accessed April 03, 2019.

[3] “This Month in History- March.” National Parks Service. Accessed April 04, 2019.

[4] Chinese Exclusion Act, Our Documents § 1-15 (1882).

[5] “Chinese Immigrants and the Gold Rush.” PBS. Accessed May 09, 2019.

[6] “Major U.S. Immigration Ports.” Ancestry. Accessed April 4, 2019.

[7] President Coolidge Signing the Johnson-Reed Act. May 24, 1924. Library of Congress, Washington. In Office of the Historian. Accessed May 9, 2019.