Fourth Myth: “My ancestors came LEGALLY!”

Of course, this concept comes from those of Western European ancestry, what I call the “Ellis Island Effect”. Ellis Island opened in 1892 and was quickly overwhelmed by the amount of immigrants from Europe. It is known that some of the inspection stations as immigrants processed were as short as 6 seconds, and immigrants quickly learned to dust chalk marks that could delay them from their clothing and to turn their jackets inside-out. There were people not allowed to complete processing and deaths in quarantine housing, but not in any sizable percentages.

Despite the volume, it was after the main migrations of Irish and Germanic groups (in 1890, the foreign-born were at the all-time record of 15% of the population), and the Ellis Island Immigration Depot was largely an attempt to regulate Catholic immigrants from Italy and Southern Europe. A slur against Italians, “Wop”, actually came from an Ellis Island definition of arriving “WithOut Papers”. Over 1.5 million immigrants came in 1907, higher numbers than the last peak we had in 2006 and the years since.

Even for the period prior to Ellis Island there were “head tax” amounts that Captains had to pay for each immigrant they brought in. As a result, they would disembark passengers in Canada or in the shoals before making their landings. The last of my immigrant ancestors came in 1887, I have found passenger lists for several (including both trips of my Great Great Grandfather returning to bring his future wife here), but no landing records.

The tale about a great-great Grand Uncle was that he returned to his homeland – To encourage more friends he knew to come to the United States! He told them they lived like serfs, he was like a king on the land he had. As irony would have it, he got into a fight with his Brother-In-Law over where the property boundary was between them and hit him over the head with one of the fenceposts! The story was that his BIL wasn’t fully right afterward.

Normally those travels and trials are woven into the narrative of our ancestors becoming citizens. “They came over the ocean, worked hard, and learned English, and proudly became an American”. None of that was required for citizenship, and often immigrants naturalized for property ownership, rather than voting rights.

Although the length of time to naturalize varied through certain eras, it was commonly a period of five years after immigrating. You gave testimony in front of a local judge, that was likely the same ethnicity as yourself, that you wanted to become a citizen. Yes, I have the naturalization document of an ancestor that defies arithmetic: The years don’t add up right for the requirement.

Most Americans aren’t as aware of those specifics, I’ve done ancestry for years. Likewise, they aren’t aware of history, or even the homelands that their ancestors are from. For Prussia (the north of modern-day Germany and Poland) and later for Sweden (which had a third of that country come here), there were mandatory military conscription laws for the males. Currently, it is said that the first act of entering our country is being done illegally; For past European immigrants the first act of leaving their homelands was often “illegal”; Why did the government of their homeland want to lose that tax base, those soldiers, the resources their subjects provided?

Other misconceptions based on an “Ellis Island Effect” is the belief that the Southwestern United States has not had an equivalent immigration processing center, thus crossing the southern border was done illegally. For much of the time around and after the Mexican Revolution (when Mexicans began to relocate to the United States to avoid violence in their homeland) the same rules were in place as entry points for Europeans: You simply declared your intent to naturalize at a later time.

Some Americans even see videos of inland Border Patrol Checkpoints, with a couple buildings along the highway, and think that they are Ports of Entry from Mexico. There are barriers (and electronic sensors / cameras) for half of the southern border, including the most critical areas. For the last few years, immigration by Mexican Nationals (both legal and illegally) has been “net-zero”: More are returning to Mexico or being deported than are coming here.

I give a sarcastic reply that according to many Americans, we gained our best immigrants when there was no regulation applied towards Europeans. They came “LEGALLY” just like the Amerindians of the time hunted deer “legally”. We acquired our best citizens when the requirements were the lowest then as well, nothing close to the involved process my family will go through. But reality is ironic that way, many times reversed from how it is unknowingly repeated.

As you’ve seen so far, immigration misconceptions are rote answers: There isn’t any thought in the responses, people say a mistaken idea over and over when it isn’t true. Believe me, we aren’t even close to being finished, stick around for more.


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