donate in donate in

learn. play. act.

Breakthrough

Get our emails!

A global organization building a culture of human rights. Visit us

Ring the Bell

One million men. One million promises. End violence against women. Visit Now

America 2049

You change America, before it changes you. Play now

Iced

Immigrant teen vs. immigration system: can anyone win? Visit

Bell Bajao

Ring the bell. Bring domestic violence to a halt. Visit

#Im Here

For Immigrant Women Visit

Iamthisland

Immigrant teens on life in America. Visit

Homeland Guantanamos

Go undercover to find the truth about immigrant detention. Visit

RSS RSS

America 2049 special agent (who is also our summer intern) on the history of Ellis Island and July 4th

staff_ellis1

Guest blogger: Maya Bhattacharjee, Breakthrough’s summer intern.

A couple of weeks ago, members of the Breakthrough team visited Ellis Island for an interactive tour for the final level of our human rights Facebook game, America 2049. (But remember, though it was the last level of our launch, the game lives on Facebook and may be played at any time!) Interning with the team at Breakthrough has been an extremely enlightening experience for me, and our trip to Ellis Island was nothing short of eye-opening and memorable. On the ferry, our Operations Manager, Julie Griff, recalled upon the team’s visit to Ellis Island exactly a year ago when America 2049 was still in its early stages, and here we were amidst the launch of its final level. As the ferry pulled into the dock and we set foot on the island, a woman beside me whispered to her son, “I can’t believe that Grandma Rose took this same step.” With that, I set foot on the island that twelve million immigrants came through in hopes of a better life in America.

ranger_bruce

We were met warmly by Ranger Bruce as we entered the Main Building, who brought us to the entrance of Ellis Island to help us re-live the immigrants’ experience. We first learned that those who arrived on Ellis Island were members of the “steerage class,” many of whom would be packed shoulder-to-shoulder into the steamships for sometimes up to eight days. First and second class passengers were processed on board on the ship, and thus it must be remembered that the count of twelve million processed on Ellis Island represents only members of the steerage class. Ranger Bruce reminded us that most immigrants were garbed in layers and layers of clothing, as they could only bring a small amount of luggage to their new life, and many of them received minimal food and sustenance on their exhausting journey. In John F. Kennedy’s A Nation of Immigrants he wrote: “There were probably as many reasons for coming to America as there were people who came.” Whether these immigrants were escaping religious persecution, political strife, unemployment, or simply trying to make a new life for their families, there were countless circumstances that lead to the greatest migration of modern history.

Ranger Bruce then described the “processing” that immigrants experienced upon entering the building. Doctors would watch the immigrants as they climbed the stairs leading to the Registry Room and if they witnessed a limp, labored breathing, or suspected any other troubles, they would perform further medical exams. I could not help but ask: after standing on a packed ship for up to ten days, how could one not limp or breathe heavily? Ranger Bruce reminded me that immigrants were determined to live their new lives in America, and this alone would perpetuate their drive and energy to compose their exhaustion no matter their age or size. He then described the brief medical exam that each immigrant would experience, including an eye hook that would be used to pull back their eye-lids in search of eye-disease. If the doctors suspected an illness, they would send them to a nearby hospital before entering the country. Once in the Registry Room, inspectors then questioned each individual with 29 questions.Imagine days with over 2,000 people in the room to question!  They were asked where they were from, what they did for a living, where they were headed, the amount of money they were carrying, and if they suspected somebody to be a, as they called, “moron,” they would refer them to a psychiatric hospital. One of the hardest parts of the experience was hearing some of the case studies of immigrants who did not make it through– families who were separated. Ranger Bruce shared that they were deported—often back to lands where their lives were put in risk.  The judges, (inspectors chosen at random from the registry room,) would have a few minutes to make their decision, and much personal discretion was used.  He did share that the majority of immigrants did make it through and only two percent were denied entry.

As we recently celebrated our land of freedom and opportunity this past July 4th, I couldn’t help but think about what it means to be American today. We learned that America was an incredibly welcoming countryellis_exterior1 during this point in history, and now while we represent opportunity and the freedom to begin a new life, “welcoming” seems far from our description. In the 1920’s, federal laws set immigration quotas based on national origin and in 1924, U.S. consulates took over immigration inspection.  This was the beginning of a much more rigid immigration system. In later years, Ellis Island became a deportation center, a Public Health and Service hospital, and a Coast Guard station. For us, Ellis Island is now a memorial to all who have made this nation their adopted home, and the meeting point of the old world and the new.

This July 4th was a new one for me after our experience on Ellis Island. I can’t help but to think of everything that our country represented for those who came to Ellis Island, and to celebrate exactly what makes America so special. Yet, I reflect on the many struggles and obstacles that we still must surpass, and what freedom in America represents today. What does July 4th and our immigrant history mean to you? What does freedom in the United States really mean, and what can we do to uphold everything that we stand for? Please let us know your thoughts in our comments section below, on our Facebook page here, or on our twitter here!

Be a road tripper for our future

New York City is gearing up for immigration reform so make sure you don’t get left behind. Starting this week, calendars are marked with events to mobilize our elected officials behind immigration reform in 2010.

As we speak, a group of dedicated advocates, students and volunteers are kicking off a five day multi-city caravan across the State of New York organized by the New York Immigration Coalition and Reform Immigration for America. The 12 hopefuls set out on President’s Day, sleeping bags and all, and will travel to ten cities, taking advantage of the Congressional Recess to rally support for immigration reform in every corner of the state. Osmán Canales, 21, of Long Island, a green card holder who is on the trip said,

We want to send a message to our government that we cannot wait any longer. There is too much suffering, too many families torn apart, too many kids who can’t get an education. I have the opportunity to go to college, and I want other students to have the same right.

Check out WNYC’s interview with one of the ‘road trippers’, Kevin Kwok. If you can’t join the road trip, follow it virtually on the Road Trip for Our Future blog.

And while you keep up on Facebook, take some time out of your week this Ash Wednesday to join Pax Christi NJ and people of faith as they walk from Ellis Island to the Elizabeth Detention Center to draw attention to the moral failings of the U.S.’s immigration and detention policies. The organizer for the event, Kathy O’Leary said,

Today’s immigrants are no different from my great-grandparents in that they come here to work and make a better life for their families. However, for them the ‘golden door’ has been nailed shut.  There is no ‘line’ for unskilled workers.”

Fired up by the 10 mile walk through Jersey? Join the New York State Interfaith Network for Immigration Reform at a convocation taking place at the historic Riverside Church. Religious leaders, elected officials, and community leaders, including people from the Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Hindu and Sikh faiths will come together to raise the moral call for immigration reform to move forward this year.

Together, the events of this week and next mark a nationwide escalation towards a March 21st mobilization in Washington D.C. Hundreds of thousands of people will gather in D.C. in the March for Freedom/March for America to drive home the message to the President and Congress to ACT NOW. We need YOU to join us there. Sign up here for updates.

POLL: Will you be participating in any events for immigration reform?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...