What happened when people arrived at Ellis Island?

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marilynn07 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The first step at the Immigration Center on Ellis Island was a medical exam, which was pretty basic and took maybe five minutes.  On the staps of the Great Hall the new immigrant was examined briefly by a doctor who would check for the obvious; lameness, pregnancy, blindness, hernia, lung problems, etc.  If the doctor noticed a possible problem he would make a chalk mark on the immigrant's coat, using a standardized set of abbreviations.  At the top of the entryway stairs another doctor would check the eyes for trachoma, a contagious disease.  Immigrants with trachoma were basically turned away from America.

This was followed by a mental exam, which consisted of figuring out basic puzzles, such as a happy face, a sad face, a steamship, etc.  The immigrant also had to draw a diamond shape, and was graded on these tests by his or her level of education.  The third step was the legal exam, where immigrants were asked questions such as, "Have you ever been to America before?", "Do you have a job waiting for you? and "Do you have a criminal record?"  The immigrant's identification was examined to make sure of who he or she was, and the immigrant had to have twenty-five dollars, or stay on Ellis Island until he could get the money or returned home.

After 1917 there was a literacy test, in which the immigrant had to read a 40 word passage in his or her native language.

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