Bureau of Immigration & Ellis Island Established

1891

United States

Borders Migrations

In March 1891, Congress established the Bureau of Immigration, a branch of the U.S. Treasury, to oversee immigration law and enforcement, shifting authority on matters of immigration from the state to federal level. This standardization and federalization of immigration policy has remained controversial today, especially for states along the border that would rather enact their own immigration policies.

In order to implement immigration quota enforcement, the Bureau established an inspection station at Ellis Island in 1892 (inspection stations in Boston, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and San Francisco would follow). During the 1890s, the Bureau also added multiple restrictions on immigration, including a restriction on immigrants who were “likely to become a public charge,” generally interpreted to bar individuals with disabilities from entry. Gradually, this restriction was also used to bar poor but able-bodied individuals—particularly after the Hoover Administration

In 1906, the Bureau took responsibility for naturalizing foreign nationals and became known as the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization. In its 60-year history, over twelve million people passed through the portal of the first U.S. federal immigration station at Ellis Island.