During the late 19th century and early 20th century, many of the immigrants were from Ireland, Italy, Poland and Sweden. Some of these immigrants were dislocated Jews, and some had arrived even earlier from China. These people came to the United States with the goal of attaining a better and more prosperous life.
In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed. This law barred Chinese immigrants from legally entering the United States, and the measure was driven by various organizations of workers living in the West who wanted to eliminate Chinese competition for jobs. This was the first time a particular ethnic group was legally barred from entry into the United States.
In 1892, in order to manage the large influx of foreign-born individuals, Ellis Island in New York was founded as an immigrant receiving station. It is believed that roughly 70 percent of all immigrants entered the United States through Ellis Island over the next few decades.
Different ethnic groups came to the United States for similar reasons. The Irish left for better prospects when famine ravaged their homeland and led to starvation. Similar limited opportunities in agriculture and unemployment prompted large numbers from Italy and Sweden to migrate as well. Many disenfranchised Jews scattered through Europe also immigrated to America to escape persecution and social and political turmoil.
In 1954, Ellis Island finally closed after processing over 12 million people into the United States. The station was closed during World War I when the United States utilized the property as a make-shift detention center. In 1943, Congress repealed the exclusion acts that barred Asians from entering the country. However, it wasn't until 1965 when The Immigration Act was signed into law that national quotas were abolished.