Why did the Ellis Island officials called the immigrants "idiots, insane persons"?
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New York City is a kind of archipelago, a Philippines on the Hudson River. Only one borough—the Bronx—is actually attached to the American mainland. There are some forty islands in the city beyond Manhattan, Staten Island, and Long Island. These minor islands are nestled in the bays, rivers, harbor, and other waterways that encase the city.
Many of the city’s islands once served important social functions and some still do. As the city grew in population northward up the island of Manhattan, along with it came the pesky social problems that tend to afflict any budding metropolis. Under such circumstances, these islands became “cordon sanitaires” in the words of writer Phillip Lopate, “where the criminal, the insane, the syphilitic, the tubercular, the orphaned, the destitute . . . were quarantined