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The U.S. Immigration Service no longer needed Ellis Island, and in March 1955 the General Services Administration (GSA) declared it to be "surplus to the needs of the federal government,"15 setting into motion a twenty year debate about what to do with the island. First, the GSA attempted to sell the property, offering it to New Jersey, New York, and private interests. Many proposals for public projects came in, but ultimately the GSA rejected them all because of inadequate funding. Next, the island was offered for commercial development as a prime site for an "oil storage depot, import and export processing, warehousing, manufacturing," and other similar activities.16 Millions of protest letters were sent to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and other officials connected with the island expressing such sentiments as, "To millions and millions of Americans Ellis Island was the 19th and 20th century counterpart of Plymouth Rock," and suggesting that the island be turned into a shrine to all the immigrants who passed through the facilities.17 The GSA once again offered the island for sale in 1958, because no definite decisions had been made, but once again, such an outcry from government and public officials arose that Congress decided to study further options. In 1964, the National Park Service (NPS) issued a study declaring "permanent recognition of the national historical importance of Ellis Island should have first place in plans for its future use" and it should be placed under the auspices of the NPS.18 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law Proclamation 3656 on May 11, 1965, adding the island to Statue of Liberty National Monument under the direction of the National Park Service. He also took advantage of the signing ceremony's theme to make a political call for passage of his immigration reform bill, which loosened the quotas set in place in the 1920s, as well as to approve a new Job Corps Conservation Center on the New Jersey shore near the island to help in the restoration work.19


15. Unrau, Historic Structure Report, 86.
16. Barbara Blumberg, Division of Cultural Resources, North Atlantic Regional Office, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Celebrating the Immigrant: An Administrative History of the Statue of Liberty National Monument 1952-1982 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1985).
17. Anonymous letter, quoted in ibid., 97.
18. Novotny, Strangers at the Door, 141.
19. Blumberg, Celebrating the Immigrant; Pitkin, Keepers of the Gate; Novotny, Strangers at the Door.
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