Immigration Archives - Treating Incoming Aliens As Human Beings
Young immigrants of a vigorous and desirable type receiving a holiday dinner on their arrival at Ellis Island.
A study in faces of immigrants photographed at Ellis Island while they were being entertained by folk dances instituted by Commissioner Wallis to cheer the hours of waiting.
Typical group from a shipload of Greek immigrants that included 300 young women who had come. To this country to marry men whom they had known only through the medium of letters and photographs
Treating incoming aliens As human beings
BY FREDERICK A. WALLIS
United States Commissioner of Immigration for the State of New York
The stirring and deeply human story of Ellis Island and of the improved methods now used there—What is being done to bar out unfit immigrants and to make the others happier — Pathetic scenes at the gateway of the nation.
NOTHING more affects the political, social, economic and industrial conditions of this nation than the foreign-born, and no problem is greater than that of the immigrant. He is the most vital, the most profoundly serious subject that confronts Congress today.
Our problem is the immigrant, not immigration. The widespread antagonism to immigration unquestionably lies in the lack of a true understanding of its importance to our present economic system. The problem of the immigrant himself, both socially and economically, can best be met by scientific selection, intelligent distribution, and broad assimilation.
Europe has ninety-one persons to the square mile more than the world's average, while North America, peculiarly blessed with earthly resources of great wealth, has thirteen persons to the square mile less than the earth's average. It requires no science of logarithms and differential calculus to estimate that, even should immigrants come to this country at the rate of a million per annum, it would require centuries to bring about an equality with Europe in the matter of population to the square mile.
It is quite obvious that in view of the great number who would like to come, there is no reason why this nation should not have the privilege of picking its 1,000,000. In other words, we can skim the cream off European immigration, taking the finest and the best, and still have more immigration than the ships can possibly handle, should we desire the maximum.
Alarmist statements, either by the open door advocates or the total exclusionists, will, in my opinion get us nowhere along the path of a correct solution of the important problem of immigration. The immigrant is here, has always been here, will always be here. The nation itself is largely the work of his
hand and brain. He founded the country, cleared the forests, developed its resources, fought for it, died for it, and the last war proved that the new immigrants were not greatly different from the old.
Face to face with the immigrant on Ellis Island, day in and day out, a business man learns to look upon immigration as a very simple business proposition after all. As one looks upon the upturned faces of the great throng of aliens in the inspection hall and finds all eyes fixed upon the desk of the inspector as though it were some holy shrine of deliverance, one's mind turns back countless pages of history to the chapter of Genesis, which tells how Cain crossed over into the land of Nod; or to the book of Exodus, when the Israelites fled Egypt; or to that chapter in our own national history about the Pilgrim fathers. It is the same old story; the immigrant of today is coming here to better his condition. To let him do so without lowering our standards of living is the whole question, and it is the purpose of this article to discuss the methods with which the nation has equipped its immigration service to meet the task.
At the nation's main gateway on Ellis Island, the Government, at a cost of many millions, has established its immigration station. There are two main buildings, one for inspection and detention of immigrants, the other a hospital for treating or holding under observation the mentally or physically defective_ The hospital is under the direction of the Public Health Service, a bureau of the Treasury Department. The immigration building is a part of the immigration service, which is a bureau of the Department of Labor.
When immigrants arrived in New York Bay, those of the steerage class are taken to Ellis Island. The cabin passengers are inspected aboard ship, and if passed on preliminary inpsection, are permitted to land directly from the ship without having to go to Ellis Island. But if there is a doubt about the admissibility of a cabin passenger he, too, must be taken across the bay to the immigration station for closer inspection.
When the immigrant lands upon Ellis Island he, or she, is taken first to the medical inpsection rooms. Lined up in single file, the aliens appear one by one before the doctors, who stand ready to look them over.
These doctors wear the khaki-colored uniforms of the army and are thoroughly informed upon all matters of medical science, particularily upon the maladies which disqualify, under our laws, an alien seeking admission to the United States. By turning back the eyelids of the immigrant the doctors make inspection with a view to detecting trachoma, a most common stumbling block of the alien at our gates in point of phyical fitness. The scalps of the aliens are closely inpected with a view to detecting favus and rigworm.
Never have we had so many scalp cases. Because of the contagious nature of these diseases many aliens are denied entrance to our country. Cripples are carefully studied to ascertain whether they may or may not become public charges, and mental defectives are promptly certified and barred. But a real, thorough examination of the alien will never be made until our Government orders every alien stripped and examined physically from head to foot. Only suspicious cases, showing some outward sign of inward disability, are stripped, and many of the great social loathsome diseases go by undiscovered.
METHOD OF INSPECTION
Having passed the medical inspection, the line of aliens proceeds upstairs to the great hall of inspection. Some twenty or thirty tall desks stand in a row at one end of this large room; behind each desk are an inspector, an interpreter and a guard or matron. This little group composes a court of preliminary inspection. To them is entrusted the task of measuring the law to the immigrant. This duty is not as easy as it may seem.
The immigrant must be registered; his passport must be carefully scrutinized to see if it has been properly issued by his own Government and whether it has been viséd by the American agent nearest his home and again by the American Consulate at the port of embarkation. It must be borne in mind that we are still enforcing the wartime regulation about passports and will probably continue to do so for a long while to come, because it is by this means only that we can practice any handpicking on the other side, where it is so essential.
We are presented with hundreds of passports whose vises are " faked "; our Government revenue stamps upon them are also often counterfeit. Counterfeiters and producers of fake vises are working overtime in Poland, Greece and Italy, and many immigrants are heartbroken at this station to find that they are scheduled for immediate deportation because of imperfect passports or vises. The long trip has been made and all their money has been spent with the sole result that they are rejected at the gateway.
Then the literacy test must be applied. The immigrant must show that he can read
forty words of some language. It is not required that he read English, but any language he may select, or any dialect. Psalm texts, or some of the books of the Old Testament, are usually handed to the immigrant, printed in whatever language he may select, and if he fails to read the requisite amount he is held for further examination by what we call a Board of Special Inquiry.
The literacy test does not apply to children under 16 years of age, for it is assumed that they will be sent to school under the system of whatever State may be the future home of their parents.
The immigrant must answer the preliminary inspector's question as to whether he is under contract to do any kind of work in this country. This we call the contract labor law, and so rigidly is it enforced that if an alien should say that a friend or relative had written him, saying he could get employment at any specified place for any specified pay, the alien is held as a contract laborer under the law, and is detained for the Boards of Special Inquiry to deal further with his case.
Under the classification " liable to become a public charge," a great majority of the women and children now coming to the United States have their greatest difficulty in passing. Herein lies one of the many inconsistencies of our immigration laws. If a person shows that he or she has positive assurance of a means of making a living, the contract labor law is a pitfall. If that person shows that he or she has no such means of earning a living, then comes the danger of being classed as liable to become a public charge. Both requirements are necessary, even though they seem to be absurdly inconsistent.
It is quite the fashion to find fault with our immigration laws, but my observation has been that this criticism is due mainly to popular ignorance of the letter of the law. With a few exceptions, such, for instance, as the literary test, which was passed by Congress under wartime stress over the veto of President Wilson, and which had been vetoed by two other Presidents, Cleveland and Taft, the close student of our immigration laws will find little to criticise and much to approve.
Outside the literacy test, which is alleged by many to be nothing short of a farce, the national immigration law could hardly be improved, if vigorously enforced in letter and in spirit.
Under the law at present we are empowered to exclude the following classes of
All idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons, epileptics, insane persons; persons who have had one or more attacks of insanity at any time previously; paupers, professional beggars, vagrants; persons afficted with tuberculosis in any form, or with a loathsome or dangerous contagious disease; Persons who have ever been convicted of any crime or misdemeanor involving moral turpitude: polygamists, or persons who practice or believe in polygamy; anarchists or persons who believe in or advocate the overthrow by force or violence of the Government of the United States, or of any Government, or persons, who affiliate with organizations founded upon such beliefs; prostitutes, or persons coming into the United States to practice immorality; persons likely to become a public charge; persons whose passage is paid for by any corporation, association, society, municipality, or foreign Government. either directly or indirectly; stowaways, except that any such stowaway, if otherwise admissible, may be admitted in the discretion of the Secretary of Labor; all children under 10 years of age unaccompanied by, or not coming to one or both of their parents, except in the discretion of the Secretary of Labor.
In addition to the foregoing classes that are excluded, we have what we term the barred zone by which Asiatics in a certain territory are excluded. In the case of the Japanese, we have " the gentlemen's agreement," by which Japan agrees to give no passports to the laboring class of emigrants from that country to the United States; this agreement serves as an eliminator, with the exception of teachers, merchants or professional men.
EXCLUDING THE UNFIT
Of exemptions there are many, and the discretionary powers given to the Secretary of Labor have a wide range. All immigrants excluded by our Boards of Special Inquiry, unless mandatorily excluded, have the right under the law to appeal to the Secretary of Labor. They may employ a lawyer, if they desire, but the lawyer is allowed to charge a fee of only $10, and few of them find it profitable to practice in the immigration field. Inspectors and employes on the island give their services gladly in this ministry of filing appeals in Washington, and the records show that. 95 per cent of the appeals are granted, leaving only such deportations to be executed as are mandatory under the terms of the law.
That the Boards of Special Inquiry are strictly applying the immigration laws on Ellis Island is witnessed by the large number of detentions, crowding the buildings far beyond their capacity, with all the consequent evils of congestion. That strong pressure is brought to bear upon Washington, oftentimes by political influence, on behalf of the detained and excluded ones, is witnessed by the large number of " excluded " let out temporarily upon bonds and by the few who are ultimately deported. The percentage of deportations in comparison with arrivals during the last year has been running less than one per cent., although the number of " exclusions " by the Ellis Island Boards of Special Inquiry have amounted to thousands.
The public has doubtless noted that several of the bills recently introduced in Congress to regulate immigration provide for a change in the exercise of this discretionary power by appointing a high court, or commission of immigration, whose sessions would be held at the immigration station, sad whose privilege it would be to see personally each alien who appealed for exemption under the selective tests or asked for temporary admission. Herein lies one of the problems of immigration. No two immigrants are exactly alike.
The personal equation must be recognized. I believe the most practicable and businesslike method would be to designate the Commissioner of Immigration at Ellis Island as an Acting Secretary in appeal cases, so that he could personally pass on doubtful or excluded cases. He would have the immigrant in person before him; this would afford a better opportunity for more thorough and effective examination.
Furthermore, the heads of the Boards of Special Inquiry, or any of the Ellis Island officials, could be called in for conference, and the immigrant given every chance to prove his case. This would immediately relieve the congestion at Ellis Island. Above all, it would make for efficiency in service. It hardly seems reasonable that appeals should be forwarded to Washington when some competent official at Ellis Island could be entrusted with this function of the law. Appealing to Washington has often delayed the admission or deportation of the immigrant a month or longer.
THE ILLITERACY TEST
Some idea of the difficulties of applying the law to aliens may be gained by scanning the exemptions to certain of the selective
tests. Let us consider the exemptions in the literacy test, for instance:
The following classes of aliens over 16 years of age are exempted by law from the illiteracy test, or from the operation thereof, viz.:
- Persons who are physically incapable of reading.
- Persons of any of the following relationships to United States citizens, admissible aliens, or legally admitted alien residents of the United States, when such persons are sent for or brought in by such citizens, admissible aliens, or admitted aliens:
- Father, If over 55 years of age;
- grandfather, if over 55 years of age;
- unmarried daughter, or
- widowed daughter.
- Persons seeking admission to the United States to avoid religious persecution in the country of their last permanent residence.
- Persons previously residing in the United States who were lawfully admitted, have resided here continuously for five years, and return to the United States within six months from the date of their departure therefrom.
- Persons in transit through the United States.
- Exhibitors and employes of fairs and expositions authorized by Congress.
- Agricultural laborers from across the border of Mexico or of Canada.
A most effective way of evading the rigorous tests of our immigration laws is for the foreigner to come as a seaman. The door is thus open for all kinds of undesirable aliens to arrive in this guise. The desertion of seamen has been very heavy. The steamships of one nation reported to me last week that in less than ninety days 2,000 seamen had deserted their ships at this port. A ship's crew, made up of Arabs, Turks and Armenians, lost seventy-three of its number while here. It is doubtful if any of them would have been admissible under our immigration laws.
Desertion has been so heavy of late that it has been necessary for the immigrant inspectors to examine the seamen between the Quarantine Station and the piers at Manhattan. Before the ship can make fast to the pier these seamen rush from the boat like rats from a burning building.
They run off the ship, swing out to the pier by the use of ropes, and resort to almost any hazard to go ashore, where they are lost in the great crowds upon our streets. If we continue to inspect seamen at the same rate as they have been corning to us in the last six months, we will actually inspect 800,000 seamen in this port during 1921. Some forty-three Chinamen were recently picked up and deported as seamen deserters.
Under these exemptions thousands of illiterates have been admitted to the United States, while just 1,810 were deported during the fiscal year ended June 30 last; 1,639 of them excluded at ports of entry throughout the whole country and returned to countries whence they came, and 171 deported under warrant, after having gained entrance to the United States.
When this illiteracy test was passed over the President's veto, the main argument advanced in its favor was that it would prove a great factor in restricting immigration.
But experience has proved that as an eliminator it has been a failure, and it has inflitted unspeakable hardships upon a few by separating parents and children, brothers and sisters, while thousands of illiterates have been admitted under the exemptions, or under bond.
It is difficult to see how the most ardent and sincere champion of the literacy test could ever believe that it would be effective as a factor in keeping out the mean and malevolent immigrant or dangerous radical. The latter class will usually be found among the educated foreigners. We recently deported one group of communists from Ellis Island consisting of twenty-three men and women.
Each one of them could read in from three to five different languages, and pretended to know the theories of Karl Marx by heart and backwards. On the day of their departure from Ellis Island, my attention was called to the case of a big, honest, strong-armed, blue-eyed Czechoslovak blacksmith, who had been excluded because he could not read. He could shoe a horse, and was a wheelwright, besides, and he had brought his young wife and two children to this country, hoping to find honest work and learn the English language.
His wife could read, but he could not, so he was sent back while the wife and children were admitted, in the care of a brother of the unhappy husband. Leaving Ellis Island, this man vowed that he would learn to read forty words and return.
On another occasion my attention was called to a young Jewish woman, who had been parted from her brothers and Asters and ordered deported because she had failed to pass the literacy test. She was sobbing aloud in the hallway near my office. I inquired of her why she had never learned to read, as her sisters and brothers had done. I ascertained that she had to stay at home and work to educate the sisters and brothers. I could not help feeling that she was the worthiest one of the family, even though she had to be parted from them and sent back to a homeless, friendless land.
The record of arrivals, debarments and deportations under warrant recorded at Ellis Island for the last ten months of 1920 and the first two months of 1921 shows that immigration steadily increased from about 30,000 in March, 1920, to about 75,000 in October of the same year, and decreased from about 61,000 in November, 1920, to about 35,000 in February, 1921. The immigration in these twelve months
The number of debarred and deported in the same period ranged from about 180 to about 290, and totaled 3,200. Aliens deported under warrant proceedings rose from 59 to 142, and totaled 913. Statistics ,however, it should be remembered, have two aspects. If 60,000 to 80,000 aliens are admitted every month, about half that number are leaving the country in the same period. If about 100,000 are annually becoming naturalized citizens, their families are automatically becoming naturalized, bringing the real number up to about four times as many.
The statesman who will eventually solve the immigration problem for the American people will be the one who shows the way to speeding up industry and increasing production, making proper and effectual use of the stranger within our gates; distributing labor to the geographical location of our national needs by making those fields of industry remunerative to owner and worker, and meeting the selected foreigner half way with cordial feelings and humane treatment, thus giving to the immigrant the most practicable and sensible examples of Americanization.
Like a mighty river flowing to the ocean is the continual stream of eager and picturesque immigrants passing daily through Ellis Island. No sooner have they landed than they scatter to all points of the compass, most of them going to the cities. According to an authority, the territory where nearly 80 per cent. of them go is well defined.
If a line were drawn from the northwestern corner of Minnesota down to the lower corner of Illinois, and then eastward to the Atlantic Ocean, passing through the cities of Washington and Baltimore, it would cut off less than one-fifth of the area of the United States. But contained in the portion marked off there are located more than 80 per cent. of the immigrants coming to this country. The remaining 20 per cent. are divided between the Southern States and those west of the Mississippi River. Only about 3 per cent. percolate through to the Southland.
Perhaps our greatest problem in immigration is the absence of authority or system to send the alien not only where he is most needed and could make most money, but where he would find more favorable conditions under which to raise his family, thus building a happier, stronger and more contented America. We must interpret to the foreigner the better things of life, and we must interpret them in terms of fairness and good will.
The assimilation of the immigrant, his absorption into our life, is s slow process. Americanization can be best achieved through the force of environment, night schools, better living conditions, sufficient wages, hours which guarantee a healthful life; in other words, Americanization is for the most part an economic problem. You cannot any more force Americanism down an alien's throat than your minister can cram religion down your throat. Americanization is a work of patience, not pressure.
CHEERING UP THE NEWCOMERS
It was Summer when I assumed charge at Ellis Island. There was no place for recreation or diversion. I immediately directed that the people be put outdoors, where they could see the skyline of the city, watch the passing of the big ships, breathe the fresh atmosphere and bask in the sunshine of a June sky. I was told that the alien did not like either the sun or the air.
The real trouble was that certain employes did not like the extra work involved. Much to the surprise of every one, it was with greatest difficulty we induced the aliens to come in at close of day. When the weather grew cold, a large storage room was converted into a bright recreation hall, capable of seating over two thousand immigrants.
Out of this grew our wonderful concerts. Sunday afternoons we have the finest musical and operatic talent that New York affords. The impression the concerts make upon the alien is indescribable. No more interesting study can be found than to sit before this great audience of foreigners, hailing from every port on earth, representing every nationality, every race and creed, some in laughter, some in tears. It is exceedingly fascinating and absorbing to watch these people respond as if by magic to music, the common language of the world.
Surely there has been more crying and shedding of tears on Ellis Island than in any place on the face of the earth. It is not only the most interesting spot in the world but it is also the most human spot in the world, and it is interesting because it is human. I found men, women and children crying everywhere. Virtually it was a vale of tears.
My first step, after eliminating officiousness and discourtesy, was to proceed to humanize the island and to organize it into more efficient and effective service that it might no longer be a disgrace to the world, but function to the credit and glory of our Government and to the relief of mankind.
It has been said that when you begin mixing sentiment with organization, humane motives with efficient management, you are scheduled for trouble, but that theory has been exploded- at Ellis Island. It did not interfere with intelligent directions when we converted a huge storeroom into an examination section, which saved tired men and women and children the exertion of carrying their heavy belongings up and down long flights of stairs.
Humanity is the better since the, rooms were cleaned up and made more sanitary and comfortable; mankind is grateful for drinking water in the dining rooms, which, I am told, had not been there for years; aliens have a. different impression of America since they have been supplied daily with Ale, and towel, and they have also a different impression of the steamship companies since we have insisted that breakfast be served when they are called at 5 o'clock in the morning to be inspected; mothers, babies and little children are healthier and freer from hunger because they now have warm milk and crackers served at stated hours, day and night, on the island; life is sweeter because the immigrants now have sugar on the tables. Many of them had not seen sugar for six years. Four men were knocked out and one carried to the hospital with three broken ribs in their scramble for sugar when they first saw it in the dining room.
It does not dehumanize the immigrant, nor pamper him either, if a large auditorium is equipped with a piano, with facilities for reading and for amusement during what to him often seems an interminable detention. Fresh air is always better than foul; and music, lectures, motion pictures three nights in the week, and courteous and humane treatment are regenerating influences ant change the spirits of men.
I am daily asked from what country is all this immigration coming. My reply is from the countries nearest the vessel last sailing, though I am sure the two greatest nationalities are the Jews and Italians; these are followed hard by the Greeks, Czechoslovaks, Spaniards and Northwestern Europeans.
Indeed, the immigrants are coming from everywhere. There is much fine immigration in the flow; there is also much driftwood. No one watching the movements of the world can doubt that there is a mighty stir among the peoples, of the globe, and that America is the goal of their ambition and the fulfillment of their dreams.
LETTING IN THE RIGHT ONES
The problem in immigration is to see that no one gets into this country who should not get in, and also to see that no one is kept out who should get in. Recently an eminent immigration official of Canada made the statement that 15,000,000 non-English-speaking people would like to come to Canada.
The Canadian Government is restricting immigration from Central Europe, Russia and Poland. It is actually spending money to keep people away, and has agents in such centres as Havre and Antwerp. All this affects greatly the United States. Unquestionably, much of our immigration is composed of people whose ultimate aim is to cross the invisible line that separates us on the north.
Steamship companies have been bringing to this port large numbers of aliens, who have to be detained under our immigration laws. It has been found necessary to hold 85 per cent. of all steerage arrivals from some steamships. We had 1,100 aliens on three ships who had less than $1 each, and 1,700 who had less than $20; one woman, with five children, with scarcely enough on to be decently clothed, was going to Chicago with no ticket and only $1.08.
I could name hundreds of cases as bad or worse. Our detention rooms and dormitories are crowded day and night, and it is only by constant attention that these rooms and their equipment can be kept clean and sanitary. Every immigrant is now given fresh blankets daily, and every precaution is exercised to prevent disease. The island was built to accommodate but one-half of the number we are receiving.
I have no war to make on the ships.
Many of our best ships come into the port . clean, fresh and sanitary. But there are some ships that come in that are so insanitary, dark and filthy that they should not be allowed to stick their nose in the port of a civilized country. Not long ago I took some Congressmen on a ship which had 1,923 steerage passengers. We had been on the boat only a few minutes when every one had to make for a porthole. The stench was unbearable, and the conditions indescribably filthy.
Men, women and children were sitting in the dark on the floor in the passageways, eating their supper out of a bucket with spoons. Many were eating from the same bucket. It was so dark on the boat that we stepped upon people sitting on the floor. Congress asked for our findings on this ship, and our report was recently published in the Congressional Record. We detained 983 of these arrivals at Ellis Island.
Another big ship came into port shortly after a snowstorm. The conditions on that boat were intolerable. I have sent several affidavits to Washington to the effect that no one could get drinking water in the steerage without paying for it, and that even after the ship came into this harbor and was detained several days at Quarantine, it was impossible for them to get water with which to wash their hands and faces. The only way they could wash their hands was to gather up the dirty snow in basins from the deck of the ship.
There were many other inhumane conditions on the ship, which are a matter of record. Under no shipping regulations are conditions such as these warranted. Since the steerage rate has jumped from $25, before the war, to $150 in the last two years, there is not the slightest excuse for insanitary and inhumane conditions. During the rate-cutting war between the ships, immigrants could go from Berlin to Chicago for $11. Now it costs from $110 to $150 to come steerage from European ports to New York.
I have also no war to make upon the railroads. Most of the roads are now giving the aliens good accommodations. But we must bear in mind that the aliens pay the same amount for their tickets as all first-class passengers. There is no longer any third-class or immigrant railroad rate. The immigrants are certainly entitled to the ordinary conveniences of travel.
I found at one station that aliens were regularly detained until 1 o'clock in the morning, awaiting the departure of the immigrant train cm its westward journey. Some were huddled together in a large room upstairs over a freight pier; others outside in a pen. In neither place were there seats, drinking water, toilet accommodations, or any other conveniences. The women with children and babies had to stand or sit on the floor until the small hours of the morning. This was corrected immediately, and the train went out at 8 P. M. instead of 1:15 A. M.
CLEANING UP THE ISLAND
I found at Ellis Island an enclosure where immigrants were detained in numbers from 200 to 600. There was so much filth and dirt on the floor that one would actually slip in the slime while walking, and yet little children were playing on the floor. I called for the man in charge of that part of the building, and when I pressed the question, he told me that this floor had not been washed for probably four months.
In another room where hundreds of immigrants were detained, the atmosphere was so foul and stifling as to be sickening. When I asked the guard why he did not keep the door open, so that the immigrants could get fresh air, he replied: " If I leave the door open, the immigrants ask me too many questions."
I found mothers, children and babies crying on one of the large floors. When I investigated the cause of so mach crying, I found that the babies and children were hungry. Somebody had been serving the children with sour milk and cold milk Orders were at once issued for warm sweet milk and crackers to be served at regular hours of the day and night the year through. I found another room where many detained aliens were behind locked doors. Men, women and children were all using the same toilet.
In the dining room for immigrants, where some days over 10,000 meals are served, I observed that there was not a drop of drinking water in sight. Yet there were two hydrants, one on either side of the room. I told the waiters that time people were entitled to water, certainly to common hydrant water; that many of them
were used to light wines on the other side. When I asked why they did not turn on the faucets, their excuse was that the tiled floor around the hydrants would become sloppy. We turned on the water immediately. The immigrants were so thirsty, we could scarcely get them away from the hydrants.
One night, at about 10 o'clock, I started with a guard and a matron on a round through the dormitories. We first came to the women's dormitory, where there were probably six or seven hundred women. Every window in the room was closed tight. These alien women seemed to know nothing about how to retire. All of them went to bed with their clothes and shoes on. From there we went to the men's dormitory. All had retired except two or three who were in one corner of the room washing their hands.
When I inquired as to how many towels and how much soap were used daily on the island, the guard said he had been on the island eight years and that he had never seen an alien with a towel during the entire time. The next day we began furnishing every man, woman and child with towels and soap. They looked like an army of new people the next morning. Their faces were bright and they seemed to have an ambition to keep clean. Physical cleanliness always inspires moral cleanliness. A new atmosphere seemed to pervade the detention rooms.
You can make an immigrant an anarchist overnight at Ellis Island, but with the right kind of treatment you also can start him on the way to glorious citizenship. It is first impressions that count most. Two of the New York papers said recently that Ellis Island had been transformed from a house of tears to an island of sunshine. I feel that this is true.
It ought not to be difficult for a nation of our education and intelligence to frame humane laws that will exclude those who are physically and mentally and morally unfit. On the other hand, a welcome worthy of the honor and dignity of this nation should be extended to those whose energies may contribute to this upbuilding of our undeveloped communities, provided always they are in sympathy with American ideals.
Above all things, I believe that this great immigration question should be protected from the manoeuvring of politics, because it is from the standpoint of policy too important and from the standpoint of humanity too sacred to be exploited by partisan, or private interests.
Revision of the system of handling these people is needed before this nation can be assured of getting the better class of immigrants. Some method of preferential selection must be immediately put in operation at the ports of embarkation. There is nothing so inhuman and certainly nothing so unbusiness-like as to bring millions of people to America and begin here the process of sifting the chaff from the wheat or separating the dross from the gold. I believe that 90 per cent. of the " culling " process could be done on the other side at the ports of embarkation.
WRONGS DONE TO IMMIGRANTS
Every day is Judgment Day for many people at Ellis Island, and the great final day of assize will not disclose sadder scenes than we see daily enacted at this station. Families are being cut in twain, husband and wife separated, children taken from their parents, or one taken and the (Aber left. It is all wrong.
These people have been saving for years, denying their families many little luxuries in order that they might get together sufficient funds to come steerage. After years of sacrifice and saving, they come to this port only to be sent back to Europe. And sent back to what? Literally to the devil and his angels.
Europe is worse off today than during the war. These people go back with no home, no business, broken in pocket, and, a thousand times worse, broken in spirit. No one can ever picture the scenes of anguish of spirit that we see at this ports We frequently find it necessary to carry people bodily from the building and put them on the ship, many of them going into hysterics and threatening to jump overboard.
It is said by many that the other nations would not permit us to come to their shores arid pick the desirables from those seeking emigration to this country. If this policy were adopted, either through diplomacy or legislation or both, I believe it would be only a short time before public opinion in those countries would so assert itself that the nations would be asking us to send our doctors and our inspectors to their ports.
Inspection over there is infinitely better than rejection over here. The day must come when there will be a change in this inhumane and unbusinesslike system of bringing the immigrant to our shore.
A most effective way of evading the rigorous tests of our immigration laws is for the foreigner to come as a seaman. The door is thus open for all kinds of undesirable aliens to arrive in this guise. The desertion of seamen has been very heavy. The steamships of one nation reported to me last week that in less than ninety days 2,000 seamen had deserted their ships at this port. A ship's crew, made up of Arabs, Turks and Armenians, lost seventy-five of its number while here. It is doubtful if any of them would have been admissible under our immigration laws.
Desertion has been so heavy of late that it has been necessary for the immigrant inspectors to examine the seamen between the quarantine station and the piers at Manhattan. Before the ship can make fast to the pier, these seamen rush from the boat like rats from a burning building.
They run off the ship, swing out to the pier by the use of ropes, and resort to almost any hazard to go ashore, where they are lost in the great crowds upon our streets. If we continue to inspect seamen at the same rate as they have been coming to us in the last six months, we will actually inspect 800,000 seamen in this port during 1921. Some forty-three Chinamen were recently picked up and deported as seamen deserters.
HUNDREDS OF STOWAWAYS
Another menace that threatens the safety of the country is that of the stowaways. A book could be written upon this subject alone. The story is romantic and thrilling, Never in the history of the nation have stowaways been coming in such great numbers. Recently we have had three ships with eighteen stowaways each, two with sixteen, one with nineteen, one with twenty-three, and another with forty-three. The other day one ship came in with fifty-four stowaways.
Two stowaways recently jumped from a big ship at the Narrows. One of them was drowned. The other was picked up at Hoffman Island. After much persuading he gave some interesting information. There was a stowaway organization on the
other side, he said, working from Greece out to the Mediterranean coast and up to Liverpool. This organization sells passage to the stowaways for from $25 to $30 apiece. The regular fare is $130.
They stand in with the seamen, who hide the stowaways in the ship and feed them all the way across the sea. This stowaway further said that when his ship left Trieste they put ashore eighteen stowaways. The vessel then proceeded to Palermo. A thorough search was made there and sixteen more stowaways were put ashore. Then the ship moved up to Naples. The marines at Naples assisted the officials in searching the vessel. Fourteen more stowaways were put ashore.
This stowaway told us that twelve more stowaways could be found in the hold of the vessel. The officers of the ship, the Captain included, all refused to go down into the hold to make the search. They said that they would do so only at the risk of their lives. Finally nine policemen and detectives with drawn guns searched the ship and the twelve stowaways were brought out. When these twelve stowaways saw their comrade, who had disclosed their hiding, they said to him. " When we get you back in Naples, we'll cut your heart out." The young man began to cry. We assured him he would not be sent back with the other stowaways.
The stowaways, as a class, are made up of the scum of the country from which they come. They are, with but few exceptions, ex-convicts, criminals and degenerates. We are told that they are frequently assisted in going aboard vessels by the police officials of those countries. However, sometimes we find among the stowaways a worthy case, but to determine the admission of any of the stowaways is an exceedingly difficult undertaking.
One of the most pitiful class of cases is that of the immigrant who comes to this port believing himself fully qualified for admission, only to find, after passing the doctors and inspectors, that his passport has a fraudulent vise. There is a well-organized band of counterfeiters and forgers on the other side, who are systematically exploiting the immigrants by persuading them to pay exorbitant sums for the visaing of their passports. This includes two classes of cases: those who have been refused vises by the American Consuls and those who come from interior points and have been waiting for weeks in line to appear at the American Consulate.
The passport thieves pass along the line, persuade these people to leave it, and take them to some part of the city, where they use a facsimile of the vise stamp and the signature of the Consul. They also use counterfeit $10 fee stamps. These stamps are good imitations of the American revenue stamp, except that they are a shade off in color. Immigrants arriving with fraudulent vises must be deported, no exceptions being made in these cases. Many women and children are the sad victims of this new phase of robbery and extortion on the other side.
PROBLEMS OF QUARANTINE
One of the worst menaces in immigration is the danger of bringing loathsome and dangerous diseases from the plague spots on the other side. We are told that at the frontiers of the nations in Europe, quarantine officials are confronted by a singular problem. Most of the refugees' clothing is so rotted that it will not stand the strain of disinfection. If new clothing be not at hand, it is not less than criminal to disinfect the old. Therefore many of the immigrants cannot be made safe for society under existing conditions.
If Ellis Island needs anything in the world next to a new Ellis Island, it needs a great system of baths so that every man, woman and child passing through our gateway should receive a disinfectant bath before entering the buildings. While they are being cleansed their luggage could be sterilized and made free of disease germs and vermin. This bath was required of every soldier when he returned home. Not a mother's son could enter this country until he had been washed and all his luggage fumigated.
An erroneous impression seems to prevail in some quarters that the immigration authorities at United States ports are responsible for the enforcement of quaran-
tine laws and regulations. This is not a fact. The immigration officials have nothing to do with the enforcement of quarantine laws. Our sole duty is to enforce the immigration laws after quarantine has granted " pratique " to arriving ships.
When the immigration officials have determined that an alien is eligible for admission, it is their duty to land him promptly, irrespective of his destination. The strict and impartial enforcement of the immigration law will continue to be the diligent and untiring aim of the Ellis Island officials.
As we look out over the world we see humanity stunned, bruised and bleeding, but, thank God, still free. This country has been urged to save Europe. We are willing to do what we can for humanity's sake. We must revive, recreate and reconstruct what the war has laid waste; and, more, we must feed and clothe Europe, and also furnish the money to defray the cost of relief.
Europe's plight is very grave. We had no hand in bringing it about, but we contributed very heavily in relieving it when we sent over our men to help to stop the war. The great pity is that we did not keep on till we reached Berlin, in order to settle the question decisively once for all. Congress has its hands full, but I have every confidence in the intelligence, courage and patriotism of Congress and the new Administration to safeguard America and American interests.
So far as my administration is concerned, the gates at Ellis Island swing both ways. They swing inwardly in cordial reception to the alien in sympathy with American ideals, who is willing to work and become a corporate part of the United States. But these same gates swing outwardly, eternally and impassably, to the man or woman who by word or deed would destroy the peace and tranquillity of the nation or threaten the overthrow of its free institutions.
Current History, Volume 14, June 1921 Pages 435-445