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The United States of America is known as the world’s melting pot, and every year on October 28 National Immigrants Day gives us a reason to reflect on just how unique that distinction is among the world’s 195 sovereign nations. As Americans, we are proud of our long history of welcoming immigrants from all parts of the world and value their contributions that add zest to our nation’s blend of cultures, customs, and traditions.
History of National Immigrants Day
America is the world’s great experiment in freedom and individual rights, and unlike any other nation on our planet, it was founded and built entirely by immigrants. Americans are citizens either by birth or by choice, abiding under a common flag and constitution, united by its legacy as a land of freedom and opportunity.
It is easy to forget that as a nation of immigrants, we are the sum of every idea and dream that ever stepped ashore with an immigrant seeking new opportunities in the United States. Most of those ideas and dreams passed through Ellis Island, America’s first federal immigration center.
Before 1890, the 42 individual states then comprising the United States of America regulated the flow of immigration into the United States. Europeans began fleeing political instability, restrictive religious laws, and deteriorating economic conditions in record numbers, leading to massive numbers of immigrants arriving on American shores by 1890. To ease the burden on individual states the federal government took over responsibility for processing immigrant arrivals.
Ellis Island in New York Harbor opened in 1892 as an immigrant station, becoming the primary port of entry for most immigration into the U.S. after 1890. Immigrants also entered the U.S. through other port cities, including Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, San Francisco, Savannah, Miami, and New Orleans. Ellis Island was the busiest because New York was the preferred port of entry for most ships arriving in America.
From opening day on January 1, 1890, until the day Ellis Island closed in November 1954, over 12 million immigrants passed through the Ellis Island immigration station, along with hopes and dreams of a better life for themselves and their families. Most of those Ellis Island immigrants shared a common dream: of becoming an American citizen. In return for pledging allegiance and loyalty to the United States and its Constitution, immigrants who chose to become naturalized citizens were rewarded with all the rights and privileges afforded U.S. citizens, and the freedom to pursue “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
As we celebrate National Immigrants Day, we also celebrate the determination, ingenuity, and spirit immigrants continue to add to our melting pot of cultures we call America.
National Immigrants Day timeline
President Benjamin Harrison designates Ellis Island to be the nation’s first federal immigration station.
1.25 million immigrants are processed this year at Ellis Island, a record number that holds for 80 years.
A Norwegian merchant seaman named Arne Peterssen is released and Ellis Island officially closes as an immigration station.
The U.S. Congress formally recognizes the first National Immigrants Day on October 28
National Immigrants Day FAQs
How did immigration affect America in the 20th century?
The mass immigration into America during the late 1800s and early twentieth century helped to meet the needs of America’s expanding local economies of that time. Low-skilled immigrants provided labor for industrialization while higher-skilled and educated immigrants contributed to innovations in agriculture, manufacturing, and science.
What was the first immigration law?
The Immigration Act of 1882 was the first federal immigration law in America, passed on August 3, 1882, by the Forty-seventh United States Congress and signed into law by President Chester A. Arthur. The act restricted certain classes of people from immigrating into America, including criminals, the insane, or “any person unable to take care of him or herself.” The act also levied a head tax on non-U.S. citizens arriving in American ports.
Where did most immigrants come from in the 1900s?
The majority of immigrants arriving in the U.S. after 1900 were from non-English speaking southern and eastern European countries. Large numbers of new arrivals were from Italy, Poland, and Russia, bringing with them diverse cultures, religious practices, and languages.
How did immigrants shape America?
Immigrants traditionally have arrived in America with big dreams, innovative ideas, and an entrepreneurial spirit. Immigrants have been an economic advantage to the United States in the world economy, providing business contacts and trade opportunities that have enhanced American profitability in the global marketplace.
How to Observe National Immigrants Day
Research your family’s path to your citizenship
If you are a natural-born U.S. citizen, your ancestors paved the way for your own U.S. citizenship status that began the day you were born. Today is a good day to begin researching your family’s immigration path to the United States. Online ancestry websites make tracing your family origins relatively easy, with most sites offering free trial memberships to help you get started.
Visit the Ellis Island Immigration Museum
Ellis Island served as the primary point of entry for immigration for more than 60 years. The immigration station has long been closed but remains a fascinating historical site and national monument in New York Harbor worthy of a visit. If your ancestors immigrated to America through Ellis Island, this time capsule should be on your bucket list of places to visit.
Take the U.S. Citizenship practice test
Do you think you know enough about U.S. history, the Constitution, the U.S. government structure, and laws to pass the naturalization citizenship test? Test your knowledge by taking one or more practice tests online at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
Five Responsibilities Of U.S. Citizenship
Support and defend the U.S. Constitution
Whether natural-born or naturalized, every citizen of the United States has an obligation and duty to defend our country and the U.S. Constitution if the need should ever arise.
Respect and obey federal, state, and local laws
The United States is a nation of laws that collectively protect each citizen’s freedom and personal rights as defined by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Respecting the laws of our land in turn respects the rights, beliefs, and opinions of others.
Participate in the democratic process
In case you are not sure, this includes exercising your right, and great privilege, to vote in all local, state, and federal elections.
Pay income and other taxes
U.S. Citizens have a responsibility to not only pay income and other taxes assessed by federal, state, and local authorities, we are obligated to file and pay them honestly and on time.
Serve on a jury when called upon
The privilege to serve on a jury should never be taken lightly or for granted, or avoided.
Why National Immigrants Day is Important
Helps us focus on diversity as a strength
Although America is a blend of diverse cultures, we have more in common that unites us than can ever divide us. The eagerness to adapt and assimilate – to become Americans – by early immigrants left an indelible imprint on the America they helped to shape. National Immigrants Day reminds us that immigrants still make significant contributions that shape our future.
Appreciate immigrant ingenuity
ATM banking machines, YouTube, the Terminator, News Corporation, Levi Strauss, Liz Claiborne. These American brands and inventions came to us by way of immigrants who made their way to America where they seized the opportunity to bring new ideas to the market. Their contributions to America’s strength in the global economy are good reasons to have a day devoted to the ingenuity of America’s diverse immigrant community.
Reminds us that America is unique
It can be easy to overlook how unique the United States of America is among nations. National Immigrant Day gives us a reason to stop and reflect on the millions of humble new beginnings that have taken place among our nation of immigrants.
National Immigrants Day dates