A Morning's Scenes At Ellis Island
One year ago, when the present buildings on Ellis Island were in process of erection to take the place of those destroyed by fire, the Barge Landing at Battery Park was of necessity utilized for the reception of immigrants, but the very limited space rendered the process of examination at landing difficult.
Today the new buildings which are in use, although not entirely completed, afford ample accommodation for the throngs of foreigners who enter our country through the Port of New York.
The landing of the immigrants, however, presents much the same aspect as last year or the year before, or for that matter for years past, as we watch these people of all climes and races taking their first step into our land of freedom.
There are the same turbaned heads, the same eager faces, amidst others of stolid or unemotional expression, the same much-burdened women, the same small boys tugging at big bundles as when we stood by the wharf that day a year ago and witnessed just such a scene.
And when we realize that it is but a continuation of this same unending, steady stream pouring into our country, a stream which has brought such a freight age as this not the one day of our former visit and again today, but which with every day of the year has left upon our shores a like burden—a burden indeed if we realize the responsibilities thus brought to us—we will begin to feel that there is more than a passing significance in the scene.
Not every person who comes ashore, however, is permitted to remain, and whole families as well as solitary immigrants are pushed one side when, upon examination, certain requirements are not met satisfactorily.
At present there are three detention pens in use, in two of which those are held whose cases are to be brought before the court of inquiry; the third pen is devoted to those whose cases have been adversely decided.
With the majority, perhaps, poverty is the barrier, for if destitute and unlikely to be self-supporting and with no friends to vouch that they shall not soon become public charges, they must be returned to their native country at the expense of the steamship company which brought them.
This last detention pen is upon the roof of the new building, and thus its occupants have the freedom of space and air as well as sunlight, and one fancies that their faces are not so cheerless as those in similar circumstances crowded together in dark pens.
One cannot linger with these disappointed ones, who must return whence they came unless their situation meets with speedy amelioration, without a stirring of sympathy.
In some cases the detention is caused by the failure of relative or friend to appear; but not always is the absentee at fault as in the case of the bright-faced Arabian woman who, with her young daughter, has come across seas to find that the husband who was to have met her, is instead in a New York hospital, and as he is their means of support they will have to make the journey back unless something favorable transpires within a few days. Her American garb as well as her English speech are the result of having been in this country once before.
Among those who are gathered here on the roof, a picturesque figure is a tall young Turk wearing a scarlet be-tasseled cap. When the dinner hour arrives and the rations of stew served in bowls, and huge chunks of bread are being dealt out, this youth from the Orient loses no time.
Just as he snatches the ladle from the attendant, bent on serving himself as he chooses, it evidently occurs to him that the near-by camera may be pointed at him and he looks quickly up just in time to have his face photographed for the pages of THE HOME MISSION MONTHLY.
We pass among the motley throng of these debarred ones, wondering that the tragedy of disappointment or apathy of despair should leave so little sign on many of the faces.
A group of old women sitting in a shady corner, two young Dutch mothers with their babies in swaddling clothes, a thin weakened little Frenchman talking excitedly in a vain endeavor to make himself understood by a group composed of at least a dozen different nationalities.
These are sonic of the ever varying phases that arrest the attention and set. one to conjecturing whether America, now that it has been reached, is the land of gold for plenty that some had pictured, or whether the goal of even the more ambitious is to be as easily achieved as fancy had painted.
HOME MISSION MONTHLY, Vol XV. August 1901