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June 7, 1995

Polished or Tarnished, the Golden Door

JAMA. 1995;273(21):1639. doi:10.1001/jama.1995.03520450007002

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WHEN THE lines of poet Emma Lazarus were placed on the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor in 1883, welcoming the world's "huddled masses yearning to breathe free" seemed like a good deal for them and for the United States. Nearly 9 million people immigrated during that decade and the next.

Just over 100 years ago the nation, entering its second century, still had plenty of room for newcomers. It preferred them young and healthy and strong, eager to work playing with railroads and stacking wheat and butchering hogs for the world, but there was so much to be done the country seemed to offer a chance for all. Naysayers, never totally absent when the immigration question was raised, were outvoted by those willing to trade economic opportunity for honest effort.

As the now-restored arrival halls of Ellis Island attest, however, once the ocean was crossed some hurdles remained.

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