Like Ron Carlson, my grandfather and his family immigrated through Ellis Island. Ron presents a very interesting idea when comparing today’s immigration to our grandparents. Ellis Island operated from 1892-1954. Over 12 million people were admitted to the U.S. during those years. Upon arrival the ships went into quarantine and were quickly assessed for contagious diseases. Once the ship passed inspection, passengers were verbally interviewed using a basic set of questions (“What is your name?” “How tall are you?” “What is your job?”), bags were checked for contraband, a quick medical examination was performed, and 98% were admitted to the U.S. This entire process typically took a few hours. No paperwork or official documentation was required at Ellis Island or at the other U.S. ports of entry during those years.
If we want to compare today’s immigration to our grandparents, we need to increase the cap on the number of people admitted to the U.S. every year, decrease the processing time to a few hours, no longer require any paperwork or documentation, and move the immigration centers to the locations where people are entering. As a great nation, I think we can do better than we did in Ellis Island though. We can treat people more humanely than even our ancestors were treated.
Today, people seeking entry have higher levels of English proficiency and broader skill sets than those who entered through Ellis Island. On average, those seeking immigration today are more employable and capable of both providing for themselves and contributing to the wider community than many of our ancestors. Financially, immigrants have a net positive effect on our economy. Maybe the problem with our borders and immigration system isn’t the people who are seeking entry, but the unwieldy process we are using.