Introduction
ation and Immigration
‘‘We’re ignorant about how we started.’’—Lee Iacocca
1
A few months after the passage of the Immigration Act of 1891,
which established the first federal immigration agency, Ellis
Island was formally opened on 1 January 1892 to become the main port
of entry to the United
States.2
Over 70 percent of those who came
to this country from 1892 until 1924 were processed
there.3
A self-
contained station with a work force that eventually numbered over
seven hundred, Ellis Island was essential to the development of the
country’s immigration policy and to the rise of the Immigration and
Naturalization Service (ins) as a powerful state
apparatus.4
For it was
there that the newly born Immigration Bureau developed, refined, and
formalized its regulatory practices and other immigration procedures,
while the federal government used the example of Ellis Island to elabo-
rate and institute its exclusionary policies of immigration. And yet, if
you visited the Ellis Island Museum of Immigration—which opened in
September 1990 to commemorate the nation’s immigrant tradition—
you would not find any reference to the ins, nor would you learn much
about how the federal government’s experiments there helped to usher
in a new era of immigration
control.5
In spite of a few passing ref-
erences to its having been an ‘‘Isle of Tears’’ for ‘‘a few unfortunate’’
immigrants who were rejected or detained, the historical Ellis Island is
mostly celebrated as an ‘‘Isle of Hope,’’ America’s ‘‘front doors to free-
dom.’’6
A symbolic repository of the nation’s ‘‘immigrant heritage,’’
the museum aims to enable its visitors to retrace the steps of their an-
cestors in a welcoming fashion that erases most evidence of the island’s
Previous Page Next Page