Immigrants’ Experience at Ellis Island 1892-1921 | Facing History & Ourselves

Immigrants’ Experience at Ellis Island 1892-1921

This reading provides a snapshot of a typical immigrants’ experience at Ellis Island, 1892-1921.
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At a Glance

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English — US
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  • History
  • Social Studies
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement
  • Human & Civil Rights
  • Global Migration & Immigration
  • Racism

Step 1: Arrive at Ellis Island.

Step 2: Undergo medical examinations. The exams were referred to as “six-second physicals,” because the majority were conducted within a six-second glance at an immigrant.

Step 3: Interview with an immigration inspector. During the interview, immigrants answered 29 questions about their identity, including their race, physical health, and how much money they carried with them.  

Step 4: Leave Ellis Island. Most immigrants at Ellis Island were free to go within a few hours of their arrival. Only 6% of immigrants were denied entry to the country. The typical reasons for a denial would be that the inspector thought the immigrant carried a contagious disease or that they were likely to become a “public charge”—dependent on government benefits.

How to Cite This Reading

Facing History & Ourselves, "Immigrants’ Experience at Ellis Island 1892-1921," last updated January 12, 2023.

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