The Tragedy of the Excluded Emigrant - 1905
Women and Childing Passing the Time in the Detention Pen in the Cool and Airy Roof Garden at Ellis Island. Leslie's Weekly, 24 October 1907. GGA Image ID # 14d62dae0b
BY JOSEPH H. ADAMS
Down on Ellis Island, in New York Harbor, a great human sifting machine is running every day, classifying, counting and examining, the thousands who reach our shore each year in this process of judging the human character the inspectors, officers and heads of departments have become such experts that few of the undesirable class slip through the gateway into this land of promise and sunshine.
Despite the eternal vigilance however, it is a physical impossibility to judge every one correctly and some get in that should be kept out Yet frequently, through the police and charities department a few of them fall again into the hands of the immigration authorities and are speedily deported.
Standing at the head of the line, before the medical examiners, it is an interesting sight to watch the doctors sifting the good from the suspicious as a ship load of immigrants passes before them in single file.
Two physicians are always in attendance, and what might escape one the other is sure to detect. The first physician uses chalk freely to mark the clothing of a suspect and when passed along the line to the second doctor he is turned into an enclosure for further examination, which will perhaps determine his or her eligibility to be admitted.
Close to this line and near the medical examiners is the " moral wicket," at which one or more matrons are.stationed, and often the women or children who have passed the medical inspectors are held up here for further examination.
During the past year more than 300,000 women have passed this wicket, and with a yearly average of approximately this number, someone must be responsible for their moral character before they are admitted to a new life where perhaps more freedom will be granted than they have ever known before.
A United States Court composed of an interpreter and a number of experienced judges are in session each day, composing what is known as the "S. I." or Board of Special Inquiry, and all cases to be investigated are brought before them for decision and final disposition.
For the pauper, the contract laborer and the generally undesirable class this board has its terrors, and many a hard-faced criminal, disreputable character, and diseased immigrant is turned back through its decision.
Here on the line comes a flashily dressed French girl. The inspector mentally says, "no good," but he is close-mouthed; to be so is part of his profession. To his questions she answers promptly but guardedly; she has been told and does she not know?
Aha! These sharp-eyed men she will elude them; she has money, yes" How much ? " " Oh, plenty," and out come 500 francs, but with not a sufficiently clear reason for admission. She is without trade or occupation.
She has only friends in New York, somewhere in West—Street; they are very fine people, oh yes! And she cannot go to them, why not? Simply because the inspector remembers reading but a few days ago that the house whither she is bound was raided and several French girls were taken to Jefferson Market police court.
It is a bad street anyway and in a tough locality. Her card is marked " S. I," and she is held for further investigation which only results in her being sent back.
Next comes a book-keeper, so he says. His father gave him money and he was coming here to make his fortune. The inspector is not satisfied and he is turned over to the " S. I." Board. But his papers, money and statements are clear and he is admitted; they give him the benefit of the doubt as they always do.
But next in line conies a well built stocky Pole, with nothing in the world but a carpet bag, a few bundles and a small showing of money. Ambition is written all over his face and he is admitted.
"Now" says the recorder, pausing for a moment, "see the difference between these two gents. The first duffer will look around for a job, spend time and money to get something to suit him and keep his job for a short time; then he will give it up, will run through his money, will borrow from his friends and then give them all the cold hand. He won't wear well and his dad knew it when he sent him over, but he was glad to get rid of him. So lots of them are.
Now look at the difference between him and that Pole. He knows nothing but work. Look at his eyes, mild but good. He has been brought tip next to mother earth; turn him loose from the train when he reaches his destination and he will dig.
He won't hang around looking for a job, but when the first greetings are over he will till the soil and before you or I know it he will have crops and that is what he will live on.
He comes from a hard country, is tough, and when you and I are going around shivering in an overcoat, he will be going around in his shirt sleeves. That is the stuff we want here, not the first kind, with flabby hands and sapped vitality."
Sure enough the book-keeper did not wear well and falling into the hands of the police, some months later, he was deported under the three-year limitation law and the country was better for it.
Coming back to the "Moral Wicket" again, every woman claiming to be a wife is stopped at that point. If her husband is with her and she has been legally married that is sufficient, but if a ceremony has never taken place, they must be legally married before they may pass in, and this ceremony is conducted by the missionaries connected with the various churches stationed at the Island.
Among the great throng of girls that come over each year there are many who are deceitful, secretive and positively bad. These are extremely hard to manage.
There is a tone of savagery about them that is almost unconquerable. And if such as these made up the population of the tenement districts and farming country, anarchists would be bred.
Of course this class are deported together with the runaway wives, the old and decrepit, the diseased, and the generally undesirable class that are friendless and without means of livelihood and likely to become a public charge.
It is also made unlawful to assist or encourage the immigration of aliens by a promise of employment or by advertisingin a foreign country, and any alien coming in consequence of such advertising must be treated as coming under a promise or agreement.
All foreigners brought in in violation of this law are immediately sent back, and, if practical, on the vessels which brought them.
The cost for their maintenance while on land as well as the cost of their return must be borne by the owners of the vessels on which they came. All such precautions are necessary or otherwise this country would become the dumping ground for the scum of European nations.
That many of undesirable quality are admitted is acknowledged and it may prove one of the curses rather than one of the blessings of immigration; but the authorities take a broad-minded view of the matter, and feel that under different environments recovery and regeneration will eventually take piece.
Pauperism excludes more immigrants than any other one cause;
disease bars many hundreds annually, and contract violations alone turn back a thousand each year, while the various other causes for exclusion swell the number to several thousands annually who catch only a fleeting glimpse of America and who go back from whence they came.
Then begins for many the tragedy of the excluded. When the boat reaches the other side, the outcasts are dumped on foreign soil, positively without money and friends and with no means of reaching their old homes.
Indeed no homes are awaiting them; they have disposed of their farms and their furniture or both, to purchase their passage to the land where gold is picked up in the streets and the people are all millionaires.
So they have been led to believe by the statements of the oily and glib-tongued steamship agent. He is travelling through Europe in numbers and planting the seeds of unrest in the 'bosoms of thousands of satisfied country folk, who through his prevarications are induced to sell their little or all and launch forth into a sea of unknown trouble.
Of these the final tale is harrowing in the extreme and the untold suffering is known only to those who pass through it. They are shut out of the life of which they dreamed; they cannot take up the old life where they dropped it, for their means have been exhausted and poverty stares them in the face.
To the pauper, the profligate and the wandering Jew, this deportation act in their life drama does not strike with such a blow, nor is the pity felt here that is due the family or the widowed mother with her raft of small children, who have striven to better themselves and have failed.
This is the real consummation of the tragedy of deportation of which the world knows little or nothing.
Who is the sorrowful old woman in the corner of the excluded room, with despair written all over her features? She is more than sixty years old, feeble and too old to work.
Ask the missionaries; they have been trying to persuade her children to take her back again, bringing all their moral suasion to bear, but with no effect.
Ten years ago these girls came over and are now " ladies;" two at service and earning good wages, the other married but with no children. The old father at home died leaving this old mother alone. The children sent for her and on arrival they solemnly pledged themselves to care for her while she should live.
Gradually they became tired of the burden and within a year turned her out one cold winter's day, where she was found by the police on a street corner, almost frozen.
Through her tale and the department of charities, she was returned to Ellis Island and finally deported,—to where?—yes, that is the sad question; to the almshouse, or to the streets of a foreign city as a beggar, penniless, homeless, with no one to care for her and finally to fill an unknown grave.
When two or more girls come over together and one is excluded they have to return together because that is the law; the other can come again and probably be admitted.
Two Polish girls, sisters, were recently the objects of the missionaries' care. Jessa Veronica was afflicted with an eye disease which baffled the hospital staff to cure.
Both were deported after being here seventy-five days, although the uncle in the West to whom they were going would care for the one and pay all the expenses of the other; but incurable contagious eye disease debarred them.
Father and mother were dead and the girls had looked forward to a new and happier life in America. But they were destined to spend the remainder of their lives together until death parted them, for now the one had to support the other and perhaps became afflicted with the same disease.
Here is a curious case. On the way to the boat the inspector has a family in charge who are apparently above reason for deportation. But they have to sail immediately for Russia.
The manes face has a determined and dogged expression as he passes the crowd coming off the boat. But one of the passengers recognized him as a fellow countryman and an acquaintance and in the short conversation that followed some light was thrown on the situation.
It seems that he had stoutly maintained before the inspectors that besides his railroad tickets for the West he had but two dollars and fifty cents, too little to supply food for his family for one day.
He had been warned not to show or tell of his money, for the Americans were thieves and would take it all away. Rather than take any chances he was returning to Russia, where he could buy another farm and live, rather than have his all stolen from him here by "pigs."
The situation was rapidly explained to the inspectors and the man and his family were admitted. He carried three money bags on his person, the gold contents of which ran above 8,000 roubles.
On a bench in the women's " detained " sits a mother and seven children, all girls, patiently awaiting the father's arrival from Chicago. It is for a final farewell; one child is in the hospital; she has been debarred by an incurable, contagious disease and the whole family must return.
They are poor and it has taken all his little store of money to bring them over. On their return the child may be gotten into an asylum or a hospital for incurables. But chance is against it and the foreign retreats are not like our own.
Ludwig Molluar and his sixteen year-old boy were ordered deported; the boy was all right but the father was an ex-convict. Both have to return. Their case was appealed to Washington and decided against them.
The father became despondent and rolling himself in his blanket early on the morning of deportation day he shot himself, while in an upper bunk of the excluded room.
Weapons and knives are supposed to be taken from those who occupy this room, but luggage is not always searched, only the person. The father's act favored the boy, for his death broke the law and he was admitted after the body had been buried.
Here in the women's detained room we find a pretty Swedish girl decked with flowers emblematic of the bride to be. She has come over to meet her lover who has sent for her.
Several days have passed and Olaf has not appeared. He came to this country three years before and has been preparing a farm home for her, and at last it is ready.
He has sent for her and she has come to be married; but five days have passed and Olaf has not appeared. When the steamer sails she is sent back. That is the law.
Oh, the grief and anguish of her soul ! No comfort can the missionaries give her. Where is Olaf? Olaf who was so good. Something has surely happened. Can she not wait a little longer ? No, back she must go; love stories are a drug in the Ellis Island market.
Several days after she has sailed Olaf storms into the Island. Where is she? Sent back! and for what? Telegraph? how could he when he was out of his head.
Did not the railroad accident occur, and should they not know he would come! The authorities felt chagrined. Cable her and wait, that was all he could do and so he waited for three long weeks.
She knew, but the strain was too much for her. At last the ship came in, all the passengers were landed, but no girl. As the last of the line passed the inspectors one officer handed the matron some papers, the records of the ship, and entered among them was one death and burial at sea, Inga Swenson.
Olaf went back to his farm, broken in heart and spirit, the girl he had worked for was gone forever out of his life. With him he took his grief and some hard feelings against the country that had treated him so badly. The tragedy of this case will live long in the memories of the authorities who dealt with it.
Stowaways add to the list of the deported every year and on the return trip the ship's papers not infrequently record a suicide at sea, either by self-inflicted injuries or by jumping over-board.
The ocean cable is a great help to immigration authorities. For example, "Vincenso Lorencio, cross-eyed, red-hair, scar on left cheek, murderer, detain; papers by steamer."
In the Barbarossa's horde upwards of fifteen hundred, the sifting and sorting go on. No one of that descripion. No red hair and no scar. Hold! Here is a crossed eye and a wicked looking one at that. "Ah, Vincenso" the inspector greets him.
He doesn't know it is he but he chances it, in spite of the black hair, black whiskers and the absent scar. " Take off your hat, Vincenso, the men all do it in polite company.
See, Vincenso, this wig does not fit right, the red hair shows here over the ear, see." Meanwhile, Vincenso denies his name, protests that he is not and does not know him, all of which comes out right in the washing.
He is held, and on the next steamer comes the " Bertillion record" that tells all and a photograph of him that is convincing. Vincenso will hang on his return and no one will care. He murdered his wife for her money to pay his fare to America. A little glimpse he gets of the brighest land but he cannot enter it.
Moses Heinstein " calls an attendant at the door of the detaining room. A little hollow chested, long bearded Jew, with red eyes and prominent cheek bones, comes forward with a grip in one hand and a stick and a sack in the other and despair written all over his face. His family are in this country. He went home to see his old mother in Russia and consumption debars him from returning now.
He is not a citizen, has never been naturalized, though a resident here for fifteen years. His business and all his interests center on the East Side, but final decision is against him, he must go back.
What becomes of him and his wife and two children is another story. All this would have been avoided if he had become naturalized, for then no bar could have been put up.
"The two gents marked 10," sang out an interpreter at the inspector's desk. The men and their baggage were hustled into a waiting room and in turn were brought before the board.
" Ah, Nicholas Polaska, your wife is not with you." " No, she is coming later." " Coming later, and for what?" " Did you tell her to come or where you were going?" "Yes." "You did, eh, and why this telegram from the Consul, Nicholas?
The next time you leave your wife and children you had better tell them where you are going and make better arrangements for their keeping while you are away. Both of you go home on the next steamer and the authorities will see that you do not repeat this little trick."
The Russian boy in a goatskin coat has to go back to Russia. Someone has given him a Derby hat the first one he ever had until he landed at Ellis island.
His heavy shoes are out at the sides and his sole other garments are a gray flannel shirt and a holely pair of trousers. The poor fellow's mother died in the steerage on the way over and the uncle in the West has not replied to the telegram sent him although four weeks have passed.
Nothing is to be done but to return. He is deported and soon after the uncle appears at the island. He was up in the mountains and missed the telegram.
Homeless, friendless, an orphan and distracted at being thus thrown on the world the boy ran away at the first port the steamer touched, and from that day to this nothing has been heard.
Here are two children, an interesting brother and sister. The father promised to meet them but he cannot be found. He is a nice little chap and the sister feels the trouble too; tags are all right and money enough, but who is going to care for them when they get to Minnesota ?
The patient little Hungarian boy spends most of his time for four weeks squatted on the floor with his back against the wall hoping every day his father will come.
He has not told his little sister that they will have to go back; she will take it too much to heart. Subsequent inquiry disclosed the fact that the father was killed shortly after the children had started from Budapest, just before he was to start East to meet them. He was in the mountains and alone and it was weeks before his body was found.
Ah, if the deportation books could be opened and important cases could he followed, what plots for tragedies, what plays based on hard indisputable fact,would be at the command of the writers of fiction; for many of the cases that pass through the clearing house at Ellis Island are more deeply shrouded in mystery than the plots of the novelists.
And could the whole chain of circumstances be uncovered instead of a corner of the cloth lifted at the gateway, what wonderful and thrilling passages and situations would be revealed for dramatization!
When the last gong of the outgoing steamer sounds and the gang planks are hauled in, when the whistle gives forth its signal of departure and the crowds on the pier and on the decks exchange their last messages, everything looks rosy to the casual observer; for happiness is at its flood tide in this joyful scene of departure.
But down in the confines of the ship another and vastly different scene is taking place and one that the happy throng on deck is not a witness to.
The watch is lifted and the vigilant care exercised that none of the deported immigrants shall escape, is relaxed. The ship is free from land and none of the little disheartened band would try to elude the watchful officers now that hope of escape is gone. Many a sigh is heard and bitter tears are shed among these forlorn outcasts. But their wails of misery do not reach the happy voyagers on deck.
Almost every ship carries its burden of sorrow, more at times than at others, particularly on their outward trips, for then the unfortunates who have been rejected at the gates are returned again to the ports where they embarked and here, so far as we are concerned, the story ends. But where does it really end and is there an end! That is a question we do not ask for the answer is long coming.
The brighter side of the picture is shown in the other departments of immigration where friends meet friends and relatives are again united, but that is a familiar picture.
In the detained room day after day the tragical play goes on. Its victims hope against hope that at the last hour some one will intercede for their release.
They and the tales they tell are but a few that take part in the play going on each year at the very threshold and within sight of the glorious land of freedom on the broad but well guarded stage at Ellis Island. The whole universe is the audience that witnesses this continuous performance of what may be properly entitled, " The Tragedy of the Excluded."
THE HOME MISSIONARY VOL LXX1X APRIL, 1905 No.