What is an Immigrant?
So what is an immigrant and how did Ellis Island fit into the story? First of all, an immigrant is a person; man, woman or child; who travels to another country in hopes of living there and becoming a citizen.
Millions of immigrants came to the United States to start a new life. They wanted to be free to worship however they wanted. Immigrants were often poor and were looking for jobs no matter how hard the job might be. Some wanted to join relatives who were already in the United States. Others had been jailed for speaking against their own government and wanted to be free in a new land, still more people wanted space to spread out. The United States had it all and was nicknamed “The Land of Opportunity".
Most of the people traveled on steamships. It was not an easy journey. Back then, of course, there were no cell phones, video games or McDonald’s French fries. Often making plans for years, folks paid $30.00 or more for a ticket on the steamship, which was a lot of money back then. Before 1900 people only needed a ticket to come to The Land of Opportunity. In 1900 The United States government decided that people needed passports and a visa, which gave them permission to enter the country.
Once they had a ticket they would have to wait for an available ship to take them. Anyone who was sick would not be allowed on the ship. They were given shots to prevent diseases. On board they had tiny bunks in which to sleep. For most the conditions were dirty and crowded. Imagine 300 people sharing two bathrooms? The smell was overwhelming.