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Immigration Archives - Immigration to the US: Considering The Causes Of Emigration


*Dr. Allan McLaughlin, of the Bureau of Public Health and Marine Hospital Service, of the Treasury Department, has contributed to THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY several articles on 'Immigration,' which have been of much interest to readers and have been highly commended by experts. We are pleased to state that Dr. McLaughlin has consented to continue this series of articles, covering in a systematic way the whole problem of immigration. --Editor

CAUSES of emigration may be considered according to their origin, and divided into three classes.

  1. Individual—the spontaneous desires for better things arising in the emigrant himself ;
  2. local—existing conditions surrounding him in his old world home which develop
    and stimulate his inherent desire for social, political or financial better-
  3. extraneous—outside influences operating from America or
    other countries,

in considering the causes arising within the emigrant himself—the desire for ownership of a home will be found present in a very large proportion of cases. This desire for his own home probably exists in the heart of every man worthy of the name. It forms the foundation of our social structure and is the unit of civilization and advancement among all progressive races.

In the early days of the republic it is certain that the immigrant was a homeseeker in nearly every instance, like his predecessor the colonist. And probably this desire to become owners actuates the majority of immigrants, even in our own day.

Often coupled with the desire for ownership of a home there exists in the independent liberty-loving immigrant a desire for free institutions, for a country where the schools are open to all regardless of race or creed, where he may worship God in his own way, according to the faith of his fathers, and where in time he may through the franchise play at least a small part in the political life of his adopted country.

The emigrant leaves often to escape compulsory military service in support of a government in which he has little or no representation. Thousands of European immigrants who arrived in the United States just previous to or during the civil war left Europe rather than submit to compulsory military service, and yet voluntarily enlisted and served faithfully in the union armies in the great conflict. They showed that they were not afraid to fight when the cause at issue was in accord with their principles, but that they resented the military system of their native land.

And then there is the restless emigrant who desires simply to better his financial condition. He recognizes no patriotic obligation to the new country which treats him kindly, and has no quarrel with the country of his birth, but intends returning to his native land when he has acquired a competence in the United States.

Many of the existing conditions in Europe act strongly as contributing causes of emigration—the price of land in many countries is prohibitive, especially when the poverty of the mass of the people is considered. In other countries, systems of land tenure obtain which make it impossible for the tenant to become an owner.

In parts of Europe discrimination against certain races or religions is carried to the extent of debarring any one of the proscribed race or religion from owning land. This same discrimination against race or religion imposes educational barriers in some countries which prevent the elevation of the poor because of their race or religion in the social scale.

Many emigrants, therefore, leave Europe because they know that in the United States their children will enjoy educational advantages denied them at home, and without which they can not hope to better their condition.

Great density of population and the accompanying excessive competition in the struggle for existence explain emigration from some parts of Europe, and emigration is further stimulated in many of these congested areas by the pressure of militarism.

When some of the contributing causes originating in Europe are accentuated, when militarism exists with its concomitant evils of grinding taxation and compulsory military service, when persecution and over-crowding make the struggle for existence hopeless, emigration becomes the alternative of starvation, and the instinct of self-preservation forces these unfortunate creatures to flee at the first opportunity to
some new country.

Convicts, paupers, cripples and diseased persons have many times been shipped to America 'to be rid of them,' by individuals, societies, municipal corporations or even by government agents. Of the third class of extraneous causes operating from America or other countries, the most important is the prosperity of the United States.

During periods of great prosperity the whve of immigration attains its greatest height, and reaches its lowest ebb during periods of industrial and commercial depression. Thus during 1882 and 1903, the total of our immigration reached its maximum, while following 1873 and 1893 a rapid falling off is noticeable.

The people in Europe are informed of our wonderful industrial growth and general prosperity by letters from friends and relatives in this country. These letters contrast conditions of life in America with the poverty or oppression of the old world, and often contain considerable sums of money, which is convincing evidence to the European peasant.

During periods of depression the tone of the letters reflects the change of circumstances and letters are less likely to contain cash remittances. According to statements of steamship officials, from 40 to 55 per cent. of our immigrants come here on tickets prepaid by friends in the United States—so that the successful immigrant here is the best advertisement of the advantages afforded by the United States, and one of the greatest factors in inducing immigration.

There is no doubt that in the past large employers of labor encouraged emigration from Europe, but there is no longer any necessity for them to induce emigration, either by agents or by advertisement, and the practise has almost ceased.

The transatlantic steamship companies have found the business of transporting immigrants to America very profitable and have done much to develop our immigration to its present mammoth proportions.

Although the steamship companies deny the fact,a well organized system undoubtedly exists in Europe, by means of which agents and sub-agents of the steamship companies induce emigration. The companies do not openly countenance the system of misrepresentation which the subagents employ, but the fact remains that it is in their power to remedy this evil, which they still permit to be practised.

For the sake of the commission allowed them these sub-agents picture America as an El Dorado to the peasants, telling them that passage to America is the certain road to fortune.

One of the most potent causes of emigration from Europe is the assistance given the poor of certain races by rich individuals or philanthropic associations. Thousands of Roumanian and Russian Jews, forced by persecution to emigrate, are assisted by the Jewish societies or individuals in the towns through which they pass and are thus helped to the seaboard.

Many are passed on through Hamburg, Rotterdam, Libau or some other continental port to London. Here they are met by the representative of the 'Hebrew Shelter.' This institution was founded in 1885, for providing a temporary refuge, and to assist Hebrews en route to America. The Jewish Board of Guardians was founded in London in 1859. According to the report of the British royal commission on alien immigration the policy of this Jewish Board of Guardians is to lessen the pressure of alien immigration upon England.

They persuade undesirables of their own race by circulars issued abroad, to embark for other countries than England, and if such undesirable persons arrive in England, render them assistance, and help them to emigrate to other countries. The majority of the undesirable Jews, thus persuaded and assisted, eventually land in New York.

They are a hopeless, poverty-stricken people, fleeing anywhere, without object other than to escape persecution in Russia or Roumania. When they finally reach New York, so complete is their pauperization, that they require assistance, in many instances for years after landing.

Thus the causes of emigration will be seen to indicate in most cases the relative desirability of emigrants. The best are likely to be found among those whose emigration is voluntary or spontaneous, and the worst are likely to be found among those assisted and pauperized by societies or rich individuals, while between the two extremes the others can be graded in varying degrees of desirability.

The first legislation relating to immigrants bears the date of March 2, 1819. A clause in this act provided for the enumeration upon arrival, as well as a statement of the age, sex and place of birth of immigrants.

This provision of the law was expected to regulate the transportation of immigrants, to prevent overcrowding on the ships and to mitigate some other abuses on shipboard. Laws for regulation or restriction of immigration have always been the result of popular demand, and have been enacted from time to time either to correct existing abuses or to prevent the entrance of certain undesirable classes.

The fact, therefore, that no immigration legislation was enacted from 1819 to 1875 speaks well for the immigrants arriving during that period.

It must not be supposed that the coming of immigrants was entirely unopposed during this period,. but the clamor raised against them about 1850 was based on racial or religious grounds, was sectional, not general, and so manifestly selfish and bigoted that the great majority of Americans took no part in it, and no restrictive legislation resulted.

About 1875 it became evident that some regulation of immigration was necessary in order to prevent certain undesirable classes, regardless of race, from landing. As a result the act of March 3, 1875, was recorded in the statutes. The classes barred by this act were prostitutes and convicted felons. By 1882 other undesirable classes attracted attention, and a law passed in that year added to the list of excluded classes, all idiots, lunatics, and 'persons unable to care for themselves without becoming a public charge.

It also provided that a head tax of fifty cents be collected from each arriving alien, the money to be paid into the treasury of the United States and to constitute the 'Immigrant Fund.' This fund was to be used in defraying the expenses incident to the regulation of immigration.

Previous to 1885, large employers of labor imported workmen tinder contract for less than the American standard of wages, and through the combined efforts of the labor organizations, legislation was enacted in 1885 to prevent the entrance of these contract laborers.

The first contract labor act of 1885 was strengthened by the amendatory act of 1887, by which power to make regulations and rules and issue instructions, not inconsistent with law, for the carrying out of the provisions of the act, was vested in the Secretary of the Treasury.

Up to this time the inspection of immigrants was made by state authorities, acting, of course, under federal law. This system was unsatisfactory, because of the lack of uniformity of inspection, and the difficulty of applying the law in imposing and collecting fines. It became evident that if an efficient uniform standard of inspection was to be established and maintained, it must be under the direct supervision of the federal authorities.

The act of March 3, 1891, besides adding to the excluded classes, 'persons suffering from a loathsome or a dangerous contagious disease,' polygamists., and assisted immigrants, provided for the assumption of the work of inspecting immigrants by the federal officers. The office of superintendent of immigration was created, and the President was authorized to appoint such officer by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.

The medical inspection was from this time to be made by officers of the Marine Hospital Service. This act also prohibited steamship companies from encouraging immigration by alluring advertisements, and provided for the deportation, within one year after landing, of any alien landed in the United States in violation of law.

The act of March 3, 1893, provided that the steamship companies should furnish lists or manifests made at the time and place of embarkation, which were to contain valuable information concerning the age, occupation, destination, moral and physical fitness, etc., of the immigrant.

These lists were to be signed and sworn to by the master and surgeon of the vessel. This requirement of manifests was expected to cause a more careful scrutiny of passengers at the port of embarkation, and the manifests themselves would undoubtedly prove of great value to the inspectors in their work.

Under federal supervision the work of inspecting immigrants became more uniform and thorough. Suitable buildings had to be erected, and other expenses necessary to the rigid enforcement of the law were incurred. It became evident that the head tax of fifty cents was inadequate for defraying the expenses incident to immigration. By a provision in the sundry civil bill, approved August 18, 1894, the head tax was increased to one dollar.

In June, 1900, congress enacted that the commissioner general of immigration should have charge of the administration of the Chinese Exclusion Law.

After ten years of trial, the law of 1893 was found inadequate in some particulars, and a great popular demand for further restriction was manifested. As a result of this popular demand the law of 1903 was enacted.

By the provisions of this act previous legislation was amplified, and further necessary restriction placed on undesirable classes of immigrants. The head tax was increased to two dollars. The authority to deport aliens landed in violation of law, was extended to a period of three years from the landing of such alien.

In addition to the undesirable classes excluded under previous laws, we find in this act that epileptics, and anarchists or persons who believe in or advocate the overthrow, by force or violence, of the Government of the United States, or of all Government, or of all forms of law, or the assassination of public officials' are excluded.

The utter disregard shown by the steamship companies for United States laws in permitting diseased persons to take passage for America, when their diseased condition must have been apparent, was responsible for the imposition of a penalty of one hundred dollars for bringing to our ports any alien suffering from a loathsome or dangerous contagious disease, which might have been detected by means of a competent medical examination, at the time of embarkation.

It will be noted from the foregoing summary of immigration legislation that nearly all the laws have been passed since 1980. It is a significant fact that previous to that time immigration came chiefly front Great Britain and Ireland, Germany and the Scandinavian countries.

With the rapid and progressive increase of immigration from Russia, Austria-Hungary, Italy, and other countries of southern and eastern Europe, deterioration in the quality of immigration was sufficiently marked to indicate the necessity for more thorough regulation and restriction. The favorite method of evasion of our immigration laws was to send the questionable immigrant by way of Canada.

By the courtesy of the Canadian government and by virtue of an agreement with the transportation companies our officers are permitted to examine, at Canadian ports, immigrants destined to the United States through Canada, but defective immigrants evaded this inspection by being manifested as destined to Canada.

The Canadian law was formerly much less exacting than our own, and these people after landing and remaining in Canada a short time, could slip over the border without inspection. An effective system of border inspection was instituted by the United States immigration authorities, to prevent the smuggling of these immigrants across the Canadian border.

The difficulty of guarding over three thousand miles of frontier can be appreciated, however, and the passage of a Canadian law (1902), at least approaching our own standard, has been welcomed as an addition to our defenses.

The provision made for excluding anarchists and persons of like tendencies has already been applied to some of these disturbers, and promises to be very effective in this direction.

Our contract labor laws have been materially strengthened by the act of 1903. There is no longer ground for misapprehension as to whether the laws were to apply to unskilled labor alone or to both skilled and unskilled.



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