Immigration Overview

               The United States is a nation of immigrants. An immigrant is anyone who leaves his or her own country and travels to another country to live. Immigrants have come to the United States from all over the world: from places like Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America. Although some people are Native Americans, meaning that their families have been on this land for thousands of years, most people who live in the United States are the descendants (the children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren) of people who came from somewhere else in the world.

               The first immigrants started to come to North America over 350 years ago. There are many reasons people decided to immigrate. Life could be hard for people in their own country. Sometimes people could not find jobs, sometimes there was not enough food, and sometimes there were wars and violence that threatened people’s lives and families. When life became too hard, people thought about leaving. However, no matter how bad life became, the decision to leave was a difficult one. People left their homes, their friends, and sometimes even their families. Thousands of people also came to the United States as slaves. They did not choose to come at all, but were kidnapped from Africa and other similar places and sold in the United States. In the past, before there were telephones and airplanes, leaving your country might mean you would never see your home, your friends, or your parents again.

               However, most immigrants came to the United States because they believed that life would be better here. People imagined that there was food and land for everyone, that there were plenty of jobs, and that they would be happier. Was this always true? Not always. Life in the United States for a new immigrant could be difficult. Many immigrants could not speak English when they arrived. Sometimes immigrants faced prejudice; people did not like them just because they were from someplace else. However, people were willing to face many problems for the promise of a better life both for themselves and their children. It is for these reasons that millions of immigrants have come to this country.

               Most people came to the United States on board a boat. Boats from Europe, Africa and Asia brought millions of people here. People could come through ports all over the eastern seaboard. People came into ports such as Galveston, Texas; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Through most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the busiest port of immigration was New York City. From 1855 until 1890, people coming to New York landed in Castle Gardens. However, in 1892, Ellis Island opened in New York. Ellis Island was built to handle the thousands of immigrants coming through each year. Immigrants were inspected by doctors to make sure that they were in good health. They were asked questions by officials about how they were planning to support themselves. It was everyone's biggest fear they would be turned back at Ellis Island and sent home.

               People who passed through Ellis Island might stay in New York City. Most bought train tickets and continued on their journey. They planned to meet friends and relatives who were already in the United States, could help them get jobs, and build a new home. Although we are all Americans and we share many things in common, the holidays we celebrate, the foods we eat, the places where we worship, and many other traditions are all a part of the things our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents brought with them from other countries.

Additional Resources:


Courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society