Last Friday, Grade 8 finished up their immigration project with a trip through Ellis Island. For the fourth year in a row, students got into character to simulate the experience of immigrants coming to America between 1800 and 1920.
Students were either given the role of an arriving immigrant or an immigrant turned immigration officer at Ellis Island. These students drew inspiration from their recently completed research papers about immigration through Ellis Island in this time period. To prepare, the arriving immigrants were given a piece of paper with basic information; their name, age, strength, education, and information about their past. Throughout the simulation process, immigrants had to make their case for citizenship based on the background of their characters.
Sometimes, it wasn’t pretty. One woman with ties to the Russian mob initially made it to the “loyalty” station, presumably through bribery, but was then deported when her mob ties were discovered. Another woman was taken to the deportation holding station before even checking in because she was “unruly” in line.
Those who did make it to the inside of the immigration office had to pass through the check-in station, continue to character processing, the health station, the clearance station, and then hopefully to the loyalty station. If someone failed character processing or health processing, their only chance was to go to the character appeals station or health appeals station. If these appeals did not work, they were sent to the deportation holding cell.
This wasn’t always the end of the line, though. Sometimes, immigrants bribed their way out of the holding cell. When I asked one of the officers guarding the deportees about why one woman was allowed to go to loyalty, he said “She gets a second chance...she has money.” In the midst of bribery, mob ties, rashes, and more, this project helps students to gain a new perspective, and practice empathy by walking a mile in immigrants’ shoes.