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New York City Immigration Records

New York City

New York City is one of the oldest parts of the United States, and its history in regards to immigration is unrivaled by any other. Without question, more immigrants came to the United States through New York Harbor and Ellis Island into New York City than any other.

Ellis Island

When many people think of immigrants coming to the United States, they immediately think of the old images of queues of people lined up at Ellis Island, waiting to become part of the American dream. While Ellis Island will likely be remembered as a major hub for immigrants from around the world, it didn’t always serve that purpose.

Ellis Island was first used in 1794 as a military base. Though the naval base at Ellis Island didn’t play much of a part in the Revolutionary War, the New York Harbor is where British naval fleets entered the city of New York.

However, the fact that the British used New York Harbor and Ellis Island as a way to gain entry into the United States made the small piece of land important to the government. In 1808, Ellis Island was purchased from the state of New York by the federal government.

Immigration at Ellis Island

Before 1890, immigration was the responsibility of each state. Different states had different laws, and they could accept immigrants as they pleased but, federal laws were soon put into place.

In 1892, the federal government completed its “immigration station” on Ellis Island. On January 1, 1892, Annie Moore, a 15 year old Irish immigrant, and her two brothers entered the United States as the first immigrants processed at Ellis Island.

Between January of 1892 and November of 1954, when Ellis Island was officially closed, millions upon millions of immigrants entered the United States through New York Harbor and the gates of Ellis Island.

Today, Ellis Island is open to the public for tours. There’s also a museum documenting the journeys of many immigrants that came through Ellis Island. The museum at Ellis Island gets more than two million visitors per year.

Famous Ellis Island Immigrants

An incredible amount of people entered New York City through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954. Most immigrants came to the country to find a better life, but some found incredible success and fame in the United States.

Fred Astaire

Fritz Austerlitz came to America through Ellis Island in 1892. While you may not know his name, you likely know his son’s name – Fred Astaire.

Ringling Bros

In 1906, John and Mabel Ringling, the couple who would eventually founded the Ringling Bros. circus, came to New York via Ellis Island.

Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin came to New York City in 1912, and became one of the most famous immigrants of all time.


Harry Houdini came to New York by way of Ellis Island in 1914.


In 1919, Albert Einstein came to New York City through Ellis Island.

Bela Lugosi

In 1920, Bela Lugosi arrived at Ellis Island. That same year, Archibald Alec Leach, who later changed his name to Cary Grant, arrived by boat at Ellis Island.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

1921 brought two famous immigrants that would change the face of the arts in the United States to Ellis Island and New York City – F. Scott Fitzgerald and George Gershwin.

Immigration in New York City Today

Today, the hub of immigration in New York City is the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office located in Federal Plaza. Ellis Island stands only as a reminder of America’s past.

People that want to come to the United States can no longer do so legally by getting on a boat and waiting in line for processing at Ellis Island. Visas and citizenship papers are much harder to come by in today’s New York City than in the past, leading many to claim that New York City is now closed to immigrants. While that isn’t true, and millions of immigrants still come to New York City each year, the process is very different and considerably more difficult.

Illegal Immigrants in New York City

Many immigrants move to New York City legally each year, though the process can be arduous and long. However, the illegal immigrant population of New York City has grown to record numbers. Though an exact number is impossible to determine, it is believed that just under 20-percent of the immigrants living in New York City today are undocumented.

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