How Immigration Works

Ellis Island

The Statue of Liberty was a welcome sight for millions of immigrants on their way to Ellis Island with hopes of better lives in America.
The Statue of Liberty was a welcome sight for millions of immigrants on their way to Ellis Island with hopes of better lives in America.
Photo courtesy stock.xchng

­From 1892 to 1954, 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island on their way to better opportunities. Forty percent of America’s present population can trace their ancestry through this small island in New York harbor. Before becoming an immigration station, Ellis Island was at times a rich fishing area, a place where pirates were hanged, a weapons depot and a fort. Owned in the 1770s by Samuel Ellis, it was an important coastal defense site during the War of 1812.

After 1924, the immigration system began to shift towards how it is today. Potential immigrants applied for visas at U.S. consulates around the world, though many still used Ellis Island as their port-of-entry. Increasingly Ellis Island became used as a detention center and a training ground for the U.S. Coast Guard. It officially closed in 1954. Declared a national monument in 1965, Ellis Island has experienced extensive renovations and is now one of New York’s most popular tourist attractions. You can find its Web site here.

For more information on how immigration works and the history of U.S. immigration, check out the links below. ­

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More Great Links


  • "U.S. Immigration Policy." 8/1998. Close Up Foundation.
  • "Glossary." U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. 3c6a7543f6d1a/?vgnextoid=b328194d3e88d010VgnVCM10000048f3d6 a1RCRD&vgnextchannel=b328194d3e88d010VgnVCM10000048f3d6a 1RCRD
  • "Guest Worker Program." United States Immigration Support.
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  • Becker, Jim. "Minuteman Corps Builds Its Own Border Fence." 10/30/2006. KOLD News 13.
  • Knickerbocker, Brad. "Illegal immigrants in the US: How many are there?" 5/16/2006. The Christian Science Monitor.
  • Robbins, Ted. "Q & A: Building a Barrier Along the Border with Mexico." 4/6/2006. National Public Radio.