When artist JR started a project about the 1.2 million people held in limbo at the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital in the early 20th century, he couldn’t help but notice ghosts of the present.

They stand in line, hands clasped in front of them or gripping the suitcases that contain their possessions. The women wear headscarves, the men thick coats, the children the travel-weary expressions of those who have come a very long way.

The photos could be of the refugees currently camped out between Greece and the Balkans, or of the 2,000 migrants living in temporary accommodations at Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport. But they aren’t. These are archival images of people at the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital — its own special sort of limbo, where many were held or turned away from the opportunity of a new life. In the short film Ellis, TED Prize winner JR highlights the stories of the individuals who populated this hospital.

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