12 November 1954

Ellis Island ceased operations.

On this day in 12 November 1954, Ellis Island, the gateway to America, shuts it doors after processing more than 12 million immigrants since opening in 1892. Today, an estimated 40 percent of all Americans can trace their roots through Ellis Island, located in New York Harbor off the New Jersey coast and named for merchant Samuel Ellis, who owned the land in the 1770s.

On January 2, 1892, 15-year-old Annie Moore, from Ireland, became the first person to pass through the newly opened Ellis Island, which President Benjamin Harrison designated as America’s first federal immigration center in 1890. Before that time, the processing of immigrants had been handled by individual states.

Not all immigrants who sailed into New York had to go through Ellis Island. First- and second-class passengers submitted to a brief shipboard inspection and then disembarked at the piers in New York or New Jersey, where they passed through customs. People in third class, though, were transported to Ellis Island, where they underwent medical and legal inspections to ensure they didn’t have a contagious disease or some condition that would make them a burden to the government. Only two percent of all immigrants were denied entrance into the U.S.

Immigration to Ellis Island peaked between 1892 and 1924, during which time the 3.3-acre island was enlarged with landfill and additional buildings were constructed to handle the massive influx of immigrants. During the busiest year of operation, 1907, over 1 million people were processed at Ellis Island.

12 November 1991

Indonesian forces open fire on a crowd of student protesters in Dili, East Timor.

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The Santa Cruz massacre was the shooting of at least 250 East Timorese pro-independence demonstrators in the Santa Cruz cemetery in the capital, Dili, on 12 November 1991, during the Indonesian occupation of East Timor and is part of the East Timorese genocide.

During a brief confrontation between Indonesian troops and protesters, a number of protesters and a Major, Geerhan Lantara were stabbed. Stahl claimed Lantara had attacked a group of protesters including a girl carrying the flag of East Timor, and FRETILIN activist Constâncio Pinto reported eyewitness accounts of beatings from Indonesian soldiers and police. When the procession entered the cemetery some continued their protests before the cemetery wall. Around 200 more Indonesian soldiers arrived and advanced on the gathering, weapons drawn. Indonesian troops advanced on the gathering enclosed in the graveyard, and opened fire on hundreds of unarmed civilians.

The massacre was witnessed by the two American journalists—Amy Goodman and Allan Nairn—and caught on videotape by Max Stahl, who was filming undercover for Yorkshire Television. As Stahl filmed the massacre, Goodman and Nairn tried to “serve as a shield for the Timorese” by standing between them and the Indonesian soldiers. The soldiers began beating Goodman, and when Nairn moved to protect her, they beat him with their weapons, fracturing his skull. The camera crew managed to smuggle the video footage to Australia.

12 November 1991

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Indonesian armed forces open fire on a crowd of student protesters in Dili, East Timor in what become known as the Santa Cruz massacre.

In response to the UN sponsored delegation due to arrive in East Timor, the Indonesian military began threatening East Timorese. They threatened that whomever spoke out against Indonesia would be killed and massacres would be staged. Despite that the UN delegation never arrived in East Timor the Indonesian army staged a massacre anyway.

On November 12, 1991, over 270 East Timorese were massacred at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, East Timor, by Indonesian troops. The civilians were participating in a memorial precession honoring the death of Sebastio Gomez, a young man slain by the Indonesian military.

The Indonesian troops participating in the massacre were backed by US support. The M-16 rifles used at Santa Cruz were provided by the US and the Indonesian military who led the attack were trained by the US. However, when the United States and the rest of the international community received news of the massacre at Santa Cruz the US and its allies doubled their military aid to Indonesia.

The massacre at Santa Cruz in 1991 sparked grassroots activists in the US to begin pushing Congress to cut off military training and support for Indonesia. Eventually the US Congress suspended defense training and military aid to Indonesia, however, many more Timorese were killed before this occurred.