Do Immigrants Still Come Through Ellis Island?
By Matt Soniak
The last immigrant to come through Ellis Island was Arne Peterssen, a 48-year-old merchant seaman from Narvik, Norway, and he did so in 1954.
From the opening of the first Ellis Island Immigrant Station on January 1, 1892, through Peterssen’s arrival, the U.S. Bureau of Immigration processed some 12 million immigrants on the island. Their first was Annie Moore, a 15-year-old girl from County Cork, Ireland, who’d come to the U.S. with her two brothers to join their parents in New York City. (She's the statue.)
By the time Peterssen walked through those doors of the second Immigration Station (the first had been made of wood and burned down in 1897), the place wasn’t really needed anymore. The Immigration Act of 1924 had greatly restricted immigration to the U.S. and allowed those who could come to the country to be processed at American embassies in their country of origin. After that, Ellis Island was mainly used to detain immigrants who had problems with their paperwork and to process war refugees and other displaced persons who couldn’t be processed at the embassies. During World War II, the island was also used as a training facility for 60,000 U.S. Coast Guard servicemen.
A year after Peterssen was processed, the Feds declared Ellis Island as surplus property and all but abandoned it. The historic buildings, already in disrepair, kept deteriorating until a decade later, when President Lyndon B. Johnson incorporated the island into the Statue of Liberty National Monument. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and taken over by the National Park Service, who spruced the island up and opened it to the public for guided tours.
Today, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum hosts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, while modern would-be Americans begin their journey by applying for a visa.