Many Americans have powerful beliefs about our previous eras of immigration . . . and those beliefs are not necessarily accurate.
A short while ago, I tweeted out:
@jimgeraghty yes we did. Statue of liberty— Reasonable Tom (@anonbene) July 10, 2014
That is just flat false, as the Ellis Island website reveals:
If immigrants had any of the diseases proscribed by the immigration laws, or were too ill or feeble-minded to earn a living, they would be deported. Sick children age 12 or older were sent back to Europe alone and were released in the port from which they had come. Children younger than 12 had to be accompanied by a parent. There were many tearful scenes as families with a sick child decided who would go and who would stay.
UPDATE: Two other laws from the Ellis Island era of mass legal immigration that demonstrate the United States never intended to be the destination for unattended children:
Any person who could become a public charge on society was also not allowed to enter. The immigrants who came to the United States carrying a contagious disease were also not permitted entry. Anyone who had been convicted of a felony, misdemeanor, or any other crime such as any activity deemed contrary to the beliefs and standards of society such as polygamy were not granted citizenship. Any person whose ticket was paid for by another was not allowed to enter into the country as well. The United States wanted only those who could care for themselves with out the assistance of others.
The 1907 Immigration Act prohibited “all children under sixteen years of age, unaccompanied by one or both of their parents.”