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This Day in History - 1.1.2012

January 1 & Immigration in Perspective


By Lee Trice

Many people ring in the New Year by celebrating, making resolutions, and spending time with friends and family. However, in 1892 the New Year brought about a change that would reconstruct the face of America as we know it.

On January 1, 1892, Ellis Island was officially opened as an immigration port. The very first immigrant to go through Ellis Island was a fifteen year old Irish girl named Annie Moore. Annie and her two younger brothers were the first of nearly 470,000 immigrants to pass through Ellis Island in that first year and nearly twelve million by the time Ellis Island closed in the 1950s.

Upon arriving on that first day, Annie and her brothers saw a large, three story building made of wood. Along with the main building were multiple out-buildings that made up the station. Annie’s process through Ellis Island consisted of a full medical exam as well as a series of twenty-nine questions. These questions addressed their age, occupation, how much money they carried. Some observers (both then and now) see the screening process as a prudent means of protecting the nation from infectious diseases and “undesirable” characters, but others have called the process one more example of institutionalized discrimination.

As Annie represents the first of millions to pass through Ellis Island, this New Year’s Day, we should all take a moment to remember this monumental event in our country’s history. Annie and the others that followed after January 1, 1892, make up almost thirty percent of our population’s ancestors. Maybe Annie was one of yours. Happy New Year!