8. A detention and deportation center

Remnants of an abandoned building on Ellis Island.
Remnants of an abandoned building on Ellis Island.

Though the Coast Guard used many of the island’s facilities during World War II, the Main Immigration Building and hospital were also used by the military. Inside the Baggage Room, German merchant mariners seized at American ports were quartered until they could be transferred to inland detention camps. Additionally, nearly 1,000 United States citizens of Japanese, German, and Italian origin were detained on the island because the country considered them “alien enemies.” In addition to providing wounded detainees with hospital treatment, the military brought in members of the Daughters of the American Revolution to provide occupational therapy to detainees with lessons in needlecraft, sewing, and crocheting.

When the war ended, Ellis Island’s immigration processing functions returned to normal and those detained were either deported or allowed re-entry. The number of immigrants never again reached the peak of the early 19th century, and by 1949 the end of the island’s era of immigration services was near. The island was used as a detention center again during the Korean and Cold Wars in the early 1950s when the detainee population rose to 1,200 people. The island held New York residents without visas, seamen who deserted their ships, and stowaways on the island without bail.