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They Came to America, a documentary appearing on WKAR discussed the motivating factors behind the immigration during the late 1800s and early 1900s, as well as the experiences of immigrants as they entered the United States and somewhat touched on the lives of immigrants after they had been assimilated to American culture.

The mass of early immigrants (those entering the United States between 1880 and 1920) traveled to America for primarily economical and religious reasons. Many of the immigrants saw America as the land of opportunity, a place where they might not be able to improve their lives, but they were certain they could improve the status of their children's lives dramatically though better employment opportunities. Also, many traveled to America to avoid the religious oppression occurring overseas. The great majority of the immigrants of this time were of Irish or German descent; the Irish coming to America for salvation from the Irish Potato Famine. During the period of Nazi Communism, many immigrants also made the trek to avoid the political oppression of the time. Wars were a common motivator for immigrants, who, due to fleeing from the war were often referred to as refugees.

But the ultimate goal was not personal satisfaction through greater material goods for one's self, but rather, the end goal was to improve the life of their children in hopes that they in turn would be able to better provide for their children.

Many of the immigrants, however, found America to be less than welcoming. Often times, immigrants entered through Ellis Island (one of the most popular entrance places, however, by no means the most major. Dozens of other large entrance points existed, as well as dozens more minor entrance points. More often than not, immigrants were put through a rigorous testing regimen in order to “weed out” the bad eggs. They were asked questions (most of the immigrants had been coached on how to answer the questions but they were still asked) and then giving a thorough health examination in hopes of preventing any over-seas diseases from entering the American border. Many immigrants did not pass these examinations and were sent back to their home country; a shame given many of them gave up their entire life in their old country to come to America. This led to some illegal immigration.

But once they were in America, they generally settled in areas with others from their home country in hopes of making the transition more smoothly. Acquiring employment and finding housing were the two largest tasks of immigrants, and once that was accomplished, they were considered functional members of American Society.

 

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