For 62 years, Ellis Island, the first federal immigration station, served as a beacon drawing newly arrived immigrants to the United States. Second to the Statue of Liberty, it was one of the most recognized icons for immigrants.
Ellis Island helped to regulate the flow of immigrants through its screening process. First of all, immigrants needed to have the required papers in order. Then, they would go to the Registry Room, where they would submit to a medical inspection, as administered through doctors with the US Public Health Service. Their ship’s manifest would include their name as well as their answers to 29 questions. This information served to help the agents cross examine the immigrants. Only people that passed the health standards or demonstrated that they would not be a burden to the public or be an illegal laborer could pass through as US citizens. From this point forward, each incoming immigrant’s history would detail their point of origin and their subsequent date of entry.
So why is it now so complicated to track people coming into the country? Even after all of these years, there are numbers of Americans that can trace their ancestry to at least one person entering through Ellis Island. Can the same thing still be said about people coming into the United States? Do we still have that same ability to track them back to their specific point of entry and point of origin? Ellis Island helped to establish the paper trail, which began their new identity as Americans.
One of the major problems that the United States has is its inability to track everybody arriving in the United States, which includes those that would do harm. One of the things that the 9/11 attacks and other terrorist activities has shown is that not all of the terrorists entered here illegally. For example, Mohammed Atta (United Airlines 11-NYC) and Marwan Alshedhi (United Airlines 175-NYC) entered legally using visitor visas. After it became public that some of the terrorists entered with visas, then local, state and federal authorities started rounding up people who had overstayed their visas. It took 9/11 to motivate the government to start working on tracking people using visas to enter the United States.
Before anything else is done regarding immigration, policy changes start with regulating the flow of traffic. Whether the United States decides on deportation or amnesty, there is no way to do either without first of all cutting back on the people entering to allow us time to figure out what to do with current illegal immigrants. If they are to be deported, then the people that overstayed their visas or otherwise illegally entered must be located.