By Becky Little, for History
The busiest day at Ellis Island was April 17, 1907, when 11,747 immigrants passed through the processing center to enter the United States. Nearly 1.3 million immigrants came to the U.S. that year — a record for highest volume of immigrants that held until 1990. Like immigrants today, these people came in search of a better and safer life. Yet compared to immigrants in 2017, immigrants back then were much less likely to speak English or be skilled workers, according to new research.
Most immigrants in 1907 came from Europe, and many white, Protestant Americans feared these immigrants couldn’t “assimilate.” Catholic immigrants from southern and eastern Europe were supposedly too culturally different. And German immigrants, then America’s largest non-English-speaking group, were establishing German-language schools and newspapers across the U.S. instead of integrating themselves into English-speaking institutions.
“Those same fears are echoed today, just about a different group of immigrants,” says Andrew Lim, the director of quantitative research at New American Economy. Lim recently published a study comparing immigrants in 1907 to those in 2017.