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Documentary Film: USCIS and the Legacy of Ellis Island

Ellis Island Statistical Division Staff, 1908
(Photo Courtesy National Park Service)

USCIS traces its origins to the federal immigration service, established in 1891, and the Ellis Island Immigration Station, which began operations the following year. The USCIS History Office and Library’s documentary film “USCIS and the Legacy of Ellis Island”  highlights the historical connections between USCIS and this iconic historic sight.

The film tells the story of Ellis Island from the perspective of those who worked there. From 1892 to 1954, the federal immigration service and its employees processed more than 12 million immigrants at the Ellis Island Immigration Station in New York Harbor. Yet the history of those employees often remains overshadowed by the immigrants they encountered. Focusing on the immigration station’s employees allows their critical role in the immigration experience to be better understood.

“USCIS and the Legacy of Ellis Island” relies upon extensive research in a variety of archives and online repositories, such as the National Archives, the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, and the USCIS History Office and Library’s own collection. The National Park Service’s (NPS) collection of Ellis Island materials, including artifacts, photos, and documents, was especially essential to the film’s creation. The NPS also provided access to Ellis Island for on-location filming and park ranger interviews. 

Through historical images, first-hand accounts, and expert interviews, “USCIS and the Legacy of Ellis Island” brings to life the important work of the men and women who operated Ellis Island. It introduces audiences to USCIS’ origins and shows how the work performed on Ellis Island still influences the agency and its workforce. You can watch “USCIS and the Legacy of Ellis Island” on YouTube.

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