Immigrant Inspector

A group of Ellis Island inspectors.

National Park Service, Statue of Liberty NM


The United States Immigrant Inspector's job was to conduct face to face interviews with all immigrants in a crucial proceeding known as immigrant inspection. Every single foreigner that entered the Port of New York was questioned - either on board ship or at Ellis Island itself. Sitting at a high "rostrum desk" in Ellis Island's Registry Room, the inspector consulted the official list of a ship's passengers called a Manifest of Alien Passengers.

In questioning the newcomer, the Immigrant Inspector verified the immigrant's answers given by checking them against what had been originally recorded on the ship's passenger manifest at the port of departure. Since he was only allowed to admit persons who were "clearly and beyond a doubt entitled to enter the United States," he had to be absolutely certain the person he was examining was not a member of one of the classes of persons barred from entering the country under the various US immigration laws, such as contract laborers, polygamists, paupers, convicted criminals, anarchists or anyone "likely to become a public charge."

Harvey Ebert Snider c. 1900.

National Park Service, Statue of Liberty NM

Harvey Snider (1870-1937) U.S. Immigrant Inspector

Harvey E. Snider was born in Butler County, Ohio in 1870. In 1894, he came to New York in search of work; with him were his wife Emma Jane and their small children. Snider was soon hired as a gatekeeper at Ellis Island. For the next seven years, he worked as a watchman and guard and helped out in other ways too, including occasionally carrying immigrants' bags. In 1902, he got an office job as a clerk at $1,000 a year.

Clerks did an enormous amount of paperwork each week: making notations on and filing passenger manifests, keeping up to date immigrant files and dossiers, and maintaining detention and deporting records. Snider was good at his job and rose steadily through the ranks. In 1907, he was promoted to U.S. Immigrant Inspector and around 1910, became chief inspector of the Night Division. As chief inspector of the Night Division, Snider supervised the night crew of workers on the island including: U.S. immigrant inspectors, doctors, nurses, watchmen, matrons, orderlies, laborers, charwomen and ferrymen.

In 1934, after forty years at Ellis Island, Harvey Snider retired. After his retirement, he took his grandsons on a visit to Ellis Island, to the New York Aquarium at Castle Garden and to the newly built Empire State Building. He died in Los Angeles in 1937.

Last updated: August 19, 2015

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Statue of Liberty National Monument

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