Poor immigrants traveling third-class to New York City between 1892 and 1954—from Germany, Romania, India, Greece, Lapland, Guadeloupe—had no choice but to pass through Ellis Island, where they underwent physical, legal and financial scrutiny before setting foot in Manhattan.
Those granted permission to enter the city still spent anywhere from 3 to 5 hours under examination, according to the Public Domain Review. The New York Public Library has a collection of photographs taken between 1892 and 1925 of immigrants who were detained even longer—those who waited hours for money, or for a friend of family member to pick them up.
The photographer, Augustus Sherman, was also Ellis Island's Chief Registry Clerk around the turn of the 20th century, and was therefore well positioned to take portraits of immigrants in their "folk costumes"—embroidered vests, wooden clogs, tasseled hats, aprons, bonnets, and tattoos.
It wasn't until the 1920s, towards the end of Sherman's stint, that Ellis Island started placing discriminatory caps on the number of immigrants who could enter the country from "inferior" regions in Southern and Eastern Europe. The Washington Post points out that there were also imposed filters on immigrants with perceived mental disabilities, as well as children without parents, and those who could not read.
These and other photographs of Ellis Island and the immigrants who passed through are available for viewing at the New York Public Library.