Immigration Archives - Immigration - What It Means - Immigration Commissioner's Report
BY COMMISSIONER ROBERT WATCHORN
IF YOU have ever noticed after a rain storm an accumulation of water in the ditches, you have seen that the water which is backed up, when released carries with it all the debris within reach and hurries it along to the place where it finds an outlet ; and as this great stream of immigration has increased from year to year it has necessarily brought with it some debris which seriously affects the problem.
The stream can never be too large if it is all good; but, as I have said, it has become so voluminous that it has picked up a lot of debris, and that is why a great many people are agitating this question who never before gave it any consideration. A certain Lord B— visited Ellis Island not long ago, and as we stood watching the streams of humanity pressing toward the railways that go to the far west, (and you know about seventy-five per cent. of the immigrants do go west, notwithstanding the cry that they all settle in the cities), suddenly asked :
"Where are all these fellows going? 'Where are they all going?" I said: "I will stop them and find out." So I halted the stream and said: "Let me see your ticket.
Montana, pass on ; Idaho, pass on ;" and so on, many states being represented in destinations shown.
"Bless me," he said, -what fine fellows they are—what splendid fellows! Where are they from?" "Well," I replied, "those in the last batch are from Huntington, England, and some are from Essex, and Sussex, and they are all going out west where they expect to own farms of their own instead of having to pay rent to some landlord."
He looked astonished, and then said: "That's a great loss to any country—a great loss." After a pause I said: "I should like to show you the reverse side of this picture if you will allow me.
There is another batch about to leave; I should like you to see them and tell me what you think of them." I gave the signal for the deporting officer in charge to bring them along, and he marched about one hundred and twenty of them in front of us. Now, I do not think that anyone in good conscience could have called them a fine looking lot.
They had gone through the winnowing machine at Ellis Island and had been found wanting. So these one hundred and twenty, halt and maimed and blind and unfit in various ways, came along and his lordship turned up his nose and said: "What a sorry lot of people—what a sorry lot! Where are they going?" I said, "They are going to England." "But why, why to England? They are not English."
"No," I said, "they arc not English, but your country allowed them to come into England and acquire a temporary residence there, and our law requires us to send them back (when they are not the right sort) to the country whence they came. They came to us from England; back to England they must go."
"Aha !" he said, "I see; I see." I then said: "I think your country looks at this matter from a wrong point of view." "Why so?" "Because as you saw—that sturdy lot of people going west to Idaho, Montana, etc. ; they came from England; you have seen the last lot who are being deported to England ; you have taken these last in exchange for the first, and the exchange is not a good one.
Now, why is it not possible for you to co-operate with the United States in reserving England for those who can and will work ?" And I tell you, my friends, that it is humane to legislate and to enforce law so as to discourage, if not to forbid, the emigration of the unfit and undesirable. It is wise legislation which says to a man before he leaves home:
"In order to get into the land that is flowing with milk and honey, you must be able to render some service. You cannot go over there and loaf. What they want today in the United States is laborers—men and women who will work." As the President of the United States has said in his magnificent epigram, which it seems to me might almost be called the substance of the immigration problem:
"We cannot have too many good immigrants, and we do not want any bad
There have been many propositions as to how to settle this question, whom to admit
and whom to exclude, and Congregationalists will doubtless have a great deal to say
finally in the matter. The agitators always have their day; they make impossible propositions; and then sensible people come to the rescue and settle the thing; and just so this question will finally be settled.
Now, I do not think any of us should be carried away by the unintelligent talk that has filled the air for some time past by people who would close the door absolutely and allow no more to enter.
There have been those who favored a law that should discriminate against the illiterate, but I am almost tempted to say that in the interest of the United States, certainly in the interest of those who have her industrial and commercial supremacy at
heart, the reverse program would be the better one ; namely, to close the door against those who are educated and let in those who are not, for the simple reason that we are educating our own people, and the educated ones that come here from Europe come to compete with our own educated people.
What we want are those who will take hold of the pick and shovel. A graduate of Yale, Harvard, of a high school, or commercial college, has not time for the pick and shovel—he would have served his school time to little purpose if he had.
Not long ago on West Street in front of one of those remarkable institutions known as a ship's chandlery, there hung an old-time mud anchor, such as little sloops used to use to anchor, and one day an Trish-man in passing stopped to examine it. He looked at it so long and intently that at last the owner of the store thought there must be something wrong with the man and he called a policeman who ordered him to move on.
"Sure, and I'm doin' nobody no harm," .he said. "What are you doing here so long? he was asked. "I was just awatchin' to see the man who would use that pick ; I thought I was the king of the pick and shovel gang, but I see I'm not in it." Now, what this country really and truly needs are those who will use the pick, not as big a pick as a mud anchor, but just a pick that will do the work. There is probably no question asked as often as this one :
"Where do they all go? What do they all find to do?" Of course those who ask this have given no thought to the question of political economy; if they had they would know that the more people come the more there is to do for those who are here. Work begets work ; people occasion work and make markets, and so long as they come in robust, healthy fashion, there cannot be too many, and they will all help to augment the supremacy of the United States as a commercial entity and power.
It is not twenty-five years since political economists of the United States with pride compared the commerce of this great nation with the commerce of Germany ; twenty years ago they began to compare it with the combined commerce of Germany and France ; and fifteen years ago they even had the audacity to compare it with that of Great Britain ; and twenty-five years hence they will reckon it with the combined commerce of the countries of Europe.
Do you suppose for a moment that the Almighty who created such miracles as the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, the magnificent Yellowstone Park, and hundreds of other more or less equally magnificent things, will stop at that?
No, He is going to perform a miracle with the human race, and do it right here where a man is free and independent and where each can work out his or her own destiny; and he who would have us close the door against anyone, man or woman, who would contribute to the consummation of that great end is not wise and is not patriotic. And he who would open the door and let in anyone who would tend to retard that consummation is equally unwise and unpatriotic.
Many delegations come to Ellis Island, and they are always interesting and no doubt interested. Last Saturday one of forty-five boys from Brooklyn came—boys ranging from twelve to fifteen years of age. They came into my office and asked me to make them an address.
I said "An right, boys; I am very busy, but never mind, come right in." Then I said, "now boys, what part of this building would you like me to show you first?" One little fellow at once rose from his seat, stepped right out in front and said "The restaurant !" Now do you know why these immigrants flock to us in ever increasing numbers.
They are looking for the American restaurant. That is the truth; and they come because those who have come before them have written home and have told them how good the steak is, how well it is cooked ; that when pay-day comes there is always enough money to buy for themselves and the children—an experience they never had before.
They come here in response to those missives of love that are written in the hours of enthusiasm born of the first possession of a dollar. That is what brings them; and so long as the prosperity of this land continues these missives of love and encouragement will cross the ocean and immigrants will come in response to them, all finally to be moulded into the likeness of good Americans.
That is why I do not believe in this proposition to shut out people solely because they cannot read and write, and even those who do advocate it do so because the mass of illiterate people may cast illiterate ballots. But for that a remedy has already been provided.
The New Immigration Law of 1906
A new naturalization law went into effect the twenty-seventh day of September, 1906—it is scarcely a month old—and as soon as it became operative the danger of an illiterate electorate was averted. No person entering The United States after the twenty-seventh day of September, 1906, may become naturalized until he has resided in the United States for five consecutive years. If he leaves before the five years have elapsed he cancels all his time and must begin anew on his return.
And further, at The end of five years' consecutive residence he cannot be naturalized unless he is able to go into open court and ask the court in the English language to naturalize him, and even then he cannot be naturalized unless he is able to sign his own application in the presence of the court, and furnish a certificate of landing issued by the Federal Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization.
So that does away once and for all with the dread of an illiterate electorate. Now, it may be your duty sometime to speak to your Congressman about this question—and I know Congressmen always listen to Congregationalists—and it is important that you should be able to speak intelligently.
Those who oppose the present immigration policy always contend that it is a crime to let a man break up his home way off in the Balkan mountains somewhere, spend his little all to come over here, and then send him back hopeless and penniless.
Now the truth is, the sum total of those deported is comparatively small—not more than three-quarters of one per cent—and it will test the wit of man to devise a plan that will prevent the hardships incident to these deportations or to avoid their
necessity without doing—in a measure —violence to the sacred principle of the right of expatriation.
In 1903 the first fine was imposed on steamship lines for bringing people to the United States afflicted with a loathsome, contagious disease. Prior to that time all the hospital space on Ellis Island, and all the space we could hire in Brooklyn and Hoboken was taken up with those thus afflicted ; but now when the steamship lines must pay a fine of one hundred dollars for each person thus afflicted, the number has fallen off quite considerably.
They say "If we get only forty dollars for a ticket, and have to pay a fine of one hundred dollars to the United States Government for each person not up to the mark in this way, and then have to take them back for nothing, where do we profit? We'll leave them at home."
So if it is wise legislation to impose a fine of one hundred dollars on account of those afflicted with painful and contagious diseases that are a menace to all who might associate with them, would it not be equally sound legislation to impose on steamship lines a fine for bringing to our shores the insane, the weak and feeble-minded, or those afflicted in any way unfitting them for self-support? Obviously it would be.
In fact it seems so patent, so plain, so obvious, that it is not susceptible of argument.
I hope when Congress meets that this sort of legislation will receive favorable consideration, and that those who are to frame the bills relating to immigration will take this view of the matter rather than the absurd and ridiculous view that tends to shut out everybody on numerical ground only.
An Irishwoman and her two boys, aged respectively ten and twelve, came into my office to-day to protest against what she called the unjust and unwarranted decision of the Inspectors to send her back to Ireland. "Why," she said, "my husband is in Erie, Pa. ; he has sent for me and the two boys. We have closed out everything at home.
The idea of sending us back to Ireland is all wrong; it is to Erie we want to go." I investigated the record and found that the ten year old boy had been pronounced by the examining physician to be feebleminded. Now I contend that a feebleminded person should never be admitted. It would be bad to have to take care of him ; but that is not all, for in the course of time he might become the father of some American-born feeble-minded children.
I agreed with the Inspectors who had rendered the decision, and insisted on their going back, notwithstanding that the father was in Erie. I went up to the feeble-minded boy, placed my hand on his head and asked him his age ; he did not seem to know he had any age. I then said, "Can you read and write?"
And what do you think his mother said—"He cannot, Sir, but the boy behind him can read and write for both of 'em." Fortunately we are not permitted to allow one immigrant to answer for another. Under the immigration law every alien must answer for himself and not for another.
In the latter part of August I visited Fiume, Hungary, and boarded one of those huge passenger carrying vessels while it was taking on board some 2300 Hungarians destined to New York—strong, sturdy, vigorous young men and equally vigorous women—the latter for the most part destined to join their husbands in the United States, a great number of them being accompanied by their children.
Just before the steamer left the pier on her westward voyage the Governor of Fiume—Count Narko—came on board. He is a well-known Hungarian statesman and very accomplished gentleman: a man cultured by education and broadened by travel, and fully competent to consider the emigration problem of Hungary in an intelligent manner. After conversing with him for some time on general topics I said, as we looked out on the great mass of immigrants on board:
"You are letting us have a fine lot on this boat, Count." He instantly replied: "I do not want to discuss it. The thought of the subject always distresses me. The loss to Hungary is so pronounced, so incalculable, that I always turn away from the sight of my countrymen and countrywomen leaving our shores. Hungary is suffering a serious drain.
I wish you Americans did not pay such high wages. It is useless for us to attempt to restrain them, considering the attractions which your country offers them." To which I replied:
"I do not think the thoughtful people of America will ever regret the coming to America of such people as these ; and perhaps some day, in the providence of God, they will come back to you either in person or in spirit and influence, and who shall say that they may not revolutionize Hungary economically and bring about an industrial situation here more approximate to that which now prevails in the United States?"
And, my dear friends, it is this thought I would leave with you by way of conclusion : That it is from this land and from her institutions that there will go out a great light that will ultimately brighten the whole earth, not only industrially and commercially, but spiritually. The United States is the world's exampler, and by it the world must ultimately be led to a higher plane of existence.