Last article, I laid out my heart’s compassion for all emigrants of the world who desire to come to America. I love all peoples of the world just as God does, but I also believe we need to have law and order in our immigration system.
I encourage you to read my last two columns titled, “Seven clear & present dangers at U.S. borders and ports” (Part 1 and Part 2), and why we need a better security system for our immigration policies.
At the same time, I think we need to be more welcoming and compassionate to decent and law-abiding emigrants who want to come to our country. And I think we can learn a little something about that by turning to the past to see how our predecessors welcomed and processed 12 million immigrants into our country who ended up building industry, fighting in two World Wars, and becoming a part of the Great Generation and building modern-day America .
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not advocating we completely go back to yesteryear’s policies, especially when methods were cruel and discriminatory, so don’t misquote me. I don’t believe immigration officials did everything right back then, but I do believe some of the ways (or indeed the principles behind them) could be used to better vet or screen applicants coming into our country.
In Upper New York Bay, Ellis Island was the gateway for over 12 million immigrants to the U.S. as the United States’ busiest immigrant inspection station for over 60 years from 1892 until 1954. The island served as the portal for those entering by ship into our great country. All immigrants had go through a process for acceptance and entrance, and it wasn’t always easy. Some were even turned away, and had to return to their country of origins. We may not like every method they used, but ask yourself: Wouldn’t America be better off for adding some of the safety or screening measures they used back then?
As the Ellis Island official website outlines, here were the three main steps immigrants had to make to get into the United States:
1. Immigrants were inspected before they came into the country: “Before the big ship arrived to New York harbor, the inspectors came on board. This happened in the area of ‘quarantine’ at the entrance to Lower Bay. All passengers on board didn´t have to enter to Ellis Island; those who travelled in first- and second-class were inspected on board [those in third and fourth class were inspected on Ellis Island. Officials thought that if an immigrant could afford a first- or second-class ticket, they probably were not sick or in financial trouble, conditions which could make them a burden on American society. While that’s an overgeneralization, catching something or someone before they hit American soil was wise]. The inspectors checked for any contagious diseases such as cholera, plague, typhoid, measles and diphtheria etc. If any one had this disease they were sent further on to Ellis Island. But this happened very seldom.”
Rather than being a judgmental negative, such medical inspections today during entrance protocol could help play a role in showing America’s compassion and goodwill as well as protect citizens from some contagious disease. The federal government might even consider using medical interns from various schools to examine and care for the sick at the borders while fulfilling academic internships at the same time. Maybe the feds could also use medical faith ministries like Faith & Practice to help at our borders.
2. Immigrants were interviewed before they came into our country: “After the check-up by the doctor, the immigrant went on to the long queue were they must wait for the interrogation. In the Registry Room there could be waiting approx. 5.000 people at the same time [to upwards of 11,000 people at peak times].
“After waiting in queue, the immigrant went forward one an one to the inspector who sat far front in the Registry Room on a high chair behind his desk. Beside himself he had an interpreter and in front he had the ship lists.”
At Ellis Island, immigrants were asked to fill out a questionnaire with roughly 29 questions prior to arrival, which inspectors used to evaluate an immigrant’s vitality and viability for contributions in our country. After 1917, immigrants had to take a literacy test if they were older than 16. They also had to have $25-$50 to enter the country – today’s equivalent of that 1921 value would be roughly $318-$685. (If you failed any of these entrance criteria, you could be turned away and the shipping company who brought you to the country would have to pay for your return to your home country.)
Ellis Island website goes on to say: “The check-up should be regarding the information that the immigrant had left of himself and that also was written in the ship records. Here they double-checked the name, age, religion, last residence, sex, civil status and if the immigrant would meet up with some relative, etc.
“Every inspector had approx. 2 minutes per immigrant [but often took much longer] to determine that the information were correct, and that the person could take care of himself and fulfill the demands to be able to stay in the US. They should also determine if the person was a danger to the society.” (You might want to read that last sentence again.)
(Of course, with the rise today of biometric securities and other advanced high-tech protections and preclearance procedures – such as the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, the Automated Commercial Environment, E-verify, etc., there’s no reason bad guys shouldn’t be apprehended at the borders instead of our own backyards.)
Remember there were no freebies, handouts or entitlements in that day. Immigrants had to be willing to work hard and pay the price like anyone else, even when they were detained at Ellis Island for health reasons, passport problems, etc. For 30 cents, an immigrant could purchase bread, cheese, sausage and lemonade at a concession stand, though they often paid more depending upon which vendor they purchased their boxed lunch or food from.
“Most immigrants passed the interrogation and got their ‘landing card’ (the permit to leave and enter New York). Only 2 percent of all the [12 million] immigrants who went to America had to return to their home country after the check-up at Ellis Island.”
After World War One and the Russian Revolution, immigration officials tried to keep out communists, who were also known as “radicals” and “undesirables.” Though kids often traveled alone into the country, after 1907 it was prohibited for anyone under the age of 16 to come through Ellis Island without an adult.
3. Immigrants who passed the inspection and criteria for entrance were allowed to leave Ellis Island and enter the country: “After approval they only had a few hours left on Ellis Island, before they could leave the island and continue their travel. … Those who had received their permission to enter to the U.S. continued to the Money Exchange at the island. … For those who should travel further to cities outside New York needed to have train tickets. The tickets were bought at the island … [their luggage was given back to them, having been inspected too]. … The immigrant waited on the island at the spot for the specific railway agency (a marked area) who then took them on the ferry to the railway station. … There were several railway stations depending on destination. Railway stations could be found in Jersey City and Hoboken. Immigrants that should travel further to New England took the ferry to Manhattan.”
What do you think about the three primary steps of immigration required at Ellis Island? Anything you can think Congress should implement (again)?
Unfortunately, in our day, too many in our country would categorize Ellis Island’s immigration policy and protocol as profiling, politically incorrect and maybe even cruel bigotry; but was it? Or were they simply doing what they needed to do to protect and build up this house we call America? Like I said, I don’t agree with everything they did back on Ellis Island, and no system is foolproof; but their immigration policy is largely what created and filled our great country. It doesn’t answer every question or address every issue, but wouldn’t some of the principles be a good and right place to start, or start again?
Truth is, several aspects of Ellis Island immigration are still reflected in America’s six steps to American citizenship. The problem is we don’t enforce immigration law already on the books. Indeed, the public is trying to rewrite the books. Too many ignorantly want open borders with no rules or criteria for entrance besides breathing. And too many have utterly disregarded the invaluable worth and commendable service of U.S. ICE officers and U.S Custom and Protection agents.
On the flipside, the America we have to offer immigrants today isn’t the same hardworking pull-up-your-bootstraps-and-make-it-on-your-own conditions of Ellis Island. Today’s system is one in which progressives victimize immigrants – legal and illegal. First, they do it by believing they have to “save” them from their own cultures’ depravity, as if America’s greed and materialism is always the answer to their greatest needs. Then, once the immigrants get into our country, progressives encourage immigrants to “play the victims” by paving the easiest possible path for citizenship (or an equal status to it), and encouraging immigrants to apply for every government handout under the sun. Are we really helping them to achieve the American dream or just creating another generation of entitlement users and abusers?
For those immigrants who are truly hardworking – and there are of course a multitude of them – they have an expectation of coming here and providing for themselves and their families, only to find they are essentially being exploited by many employers and even by politicians who want their votes to stay in office.
Larry Hatfield, president of Eagle Investigation and Protection Services as well as a veteran board member for Crime Stoppers of Houston, explained it this way: “Have we truly considered things from their perspective? Most arrive here seeking work and a better life for themselves and their families. They want to ‘realize the American dream.’ But is it possible they eventually might feel exploited, doing laborious work for the lowest wage and for Americans that are obviously living the American dream? Unable to speak our language or to legally vote, have we considered they might begin feeling disenfranchised and exploited after a while? Is it difficult to understand that their optimism and good intentions could change over time? Unable to effectively communicate with little chance of improving their situation, is it hard to believe that frustration and resentment could replace optimism?”
If you missed it, Larry’s and my main point in the previous paragraphs is this: illegal immigration not only does our country a tremendous disservice, it also does the illegal immigrants a tremendous disservice.
These are some of the reasons why we have to eliminate – and I mean totally eliminate – illegal border crossings. Ultimately everyone needs to understand: If you come here illegally, you will not profit by employment and will be charged with a serious crime. And we can only do this by having a secure border and strictly enforcing our present immigration and employment laws. In so doing, we can make it much more attractive to come here legally.
If you want to do something about illegal immigration and particularly the criminals from other countries pouring into cities and communities by you, here’s a petition to demand that your governor enforce our nation’s immigration laws already on the books.
I can think of no better words of wisdom to leave with you again then the reminder from president Ronald Reagan I concluded with last article: “A nation that cannot control its borders is not a nation.”