Curbing A Human Flood of Immigration - A New Law Takes Effect
WHEN the powers that make our laws at Washington were confronted of late with the fact that they were admitting aliens through our gateways at the rate of a Philadelphia full per year—or a Boston full plus a Baltimore full, if you would prefer it that way—they "sat up and took notice," as the saying is.
Frank P. Sargent, the Commissioner General of Immigration, with diagrams and charts as long as your arm, and statistical tables, and sound logic, too, had begged and pleaded and pleaded again for power not only to obtain for us a smaller quantity and better quality of immigrants, but to drain and distribute the stagnation of idle aliens which, this generation past, has been accumulating, deeper and blacker, in a few over-populated areas of the land.
He had given proof of how these areas of alien concentration—these foreign "colonies" in certain big cities—were breeding idleness, pauperism, disease, and crime while the vast, broad, sunlit expanse of land to the south and west was standing undeveloped for the lack of men of brawn. As a result, Congress gave us a new immigration law before it shut up shop in the spring.
The new law goes into effect July first. It provides the immigration service with machinery for a more equal distribution of aliens among the states, and for skimming deeper into the old world scum now floating America ward upon the seas. It excludes classes of weaklings and degenerates admitted hitherto, requires steamship companies better to protect the health of our future citizens en route and affords the arms of government significantly renewed strength with which to strike a blow at the traffic in immoral alien women.
On July first, the Commissioner General of Immigration will open, and his bureau at Washington a "division of information" whose function will be, according to statute, "to promote a beneficial distribution of aliens among the states and territories desiring immigration."
An official in charge will gather from all available sources useful information regarding the resources, products and physical characteristics of each state and territory. This information will be published in different languages and will be distributed at the immigrant stations among all admitted aliens who ask for it.
Properly accredited agents of the states and territories will be admitted to the immigrant stations and will be given access to newly admitted aliens. These official promoters will point out to the newcomers the special inducements for settlement offered by their respective states.
But to protect the aliens who, particularly at the great Ellis Island station, will run the gantlet of these state boomers, Commissioner General Sargent will frame strict regulations, and agents violating these will be denied the privileges of the stations. Some of the states, particularly those of the south, already maintain immigration bureaus, and these will appoint the agents sent to the immigration stations.
Other states desiring immigrants are expected to organize their bureaus before July 1. Practically all of this educational campaign will be waged at the Ellis Island station, New York. Through its portals passed last year 880,000 of the 1,057,000 aliens admitted to our shores.
The great demand for immigrants in many sections of the south and west is disclosed in many urgent appeals which Mr. Sargent has been receiving. These come especially from agriculturalists, mine owners, manufacturers and railroad officials. But despite this demand for them elsewhere, a majority of our immigrants are still pouring into the sections where they are least wanted and where the least chance of work awaits them.
They are avoiding the sections where they would be welcomed with open arms and given remunerative employment, not only because of the lure of city life and the desire to be near their countrymen, but through ignorance of the real opportunities offered them in the south and far west.
In spite of the clamor for immigrants which has been coming with increasing appeal from the thinly populated regions of the country, over seven-tenths of the aliens who passed through the immigrant stations last year said they were going to settle in already thickly populated centers.
Over one-third of them said they were going to make their abodes in New York state; more than one-sixth, in Pennsylvania; one-twelfth, in Illinois; and almost as many in Massachusetts, while next ranked those bound for New Jersey.
In other words, there set out for New York last year more than enough newly arrived aliens (374,708) to populate a second Buffalo; for Pennsylvania more than enough (198,084) to fill another Providence, or two Scrantons; for Illinois sufficient (86,539) to duplicate Richmond, Va.; for Massachusetts an ample number (73,863) to fill a Trenton, N. J., and for New Jersey enough (58,415) to fill another Hoboken.
Those destined for the north—the North Atlantic and South Central States, amounted to ninety per cent of all arrivals. Only 9 per cent were bound for the west—beyond the Mississippi—and only 4.1 per cent for the south. Ohio alone got more of these aliens than either the whole west or the whole south. Such is the state of affairs against which Mr. Sargent's new information office, reinforced by the states and territories, will wage its educational campaign.
This clamor 'for more immigrants is louder in the south than in the west. But there was a day, not so long agone, when our southrons—despite their traditional hospitality toward their own countrymen and their own caste—held out to the immigrant but a cold hand of welcome.
The South's change of sentiment on this subject has been both recent and marked. It now offers a splendid field for the newcomer with brawn and energy. It has millions of acres of cotton, cane, rice and tobacco lands that have never been cultivated. Indeed, Louisiana alone has 19,000,000 acres of vacant land Out of a total of 26,000,000, and it is estimated that not more than one-eighth of the cotton lands of the whole south is under cultivation.
In Louisiana, there are more than a hundred immigration societies, and in Maryland, there are still more. But neither these nor the similar organizations in other southern states have been looking for the Hungarians and Russians now flocking into the north in superabundance.
The south has been calling for the good old Teutonic and Keltic stock which settled the country in its first days—the English, Irish, Welsh, Scotch, and Germans, in particular. Climatically speaking, the Italians are, of all of our immigrants, those best suited to the south, and moreover, they now constitute the largest racial class of our immigrants.
The supply of these far exceeds the demand, in the north. They have proved to be successful farmers where they have so far settled in the southern cotton and sugar plantations. The great lumbering companies of the south are commencing to employ them, and it is estimated that more than 100,000 are working in the southern Mississippi Valley.
They have there begun to purchase little farms, to build good homes and to put money in the bank. They are reported to be prompt in paying debts, and to have improved morally as well as financially since arriving. The younger of these Italians do not wish to return to Italy. This longing common to the older ones has caused their race to be generally disliked in America.
Somewhat of a setback to the immigration plans of a part of the south will, however, be given by the contract labor exclusion clause of the new law. Some months ago the state of South Carolina made arrangements by which an immigrant ship was run directly from Bremen to Charleston and the state paid for the tickets of many of the immigrants, who undertook the voyage in consequence of more or less specific promises of employment.
Certain labor unions raised the protest that this method of enticing aliens to our shores would be a violation of the contract labor clause of the new law, and the Attorney General has ruled that they are correct. However, other southern states have since sent representatives abroad to endeavor in some manner to arrange for direct steamship lines to our big southern ports.
A wise reform provided by the new immigration law is the requirement that more and better steerage space per immigrant be given by vessels. One of the first acts of Oscar Straits, after assuming office as Secretary of Commerce and Labor, was to look into this question. He has been abroad many times—in fact, is of foreign birth—and has taken a personal interest in the condition of the poor immigrants en voyage.
He at once appointed a commission to go over the question carefully. The old laws were not especially regardful of the comfort of the hordes of immigrants pouring in from the countries of the old world. They were made largely from the viewpoint of the welfare of this country. Of course, all present-day alien legislation is enacted on a similar basis, but wherever possible, the physical well-being of the immigrant is more strictly attended to.
Secretary Straus could sympathize with the stranger in his crowded steamer quarters. It was his opinion that since modern steel vent's now have so much more room than had the old-time vessels the advantages should be shared with the poor immigrants. The framers of our immigration law, at the instigation of the commission mentioned, have made provision, in substance, as follows :
Each adult immigrant will be assured 126 or 140 cubic feet according to whether he is on the upper or lower steerage decks. Those on the upper deck must have at least eighteen square feet of deck surface and those below at least twenty, and there must be seven feet from deck to ceiling, so to speak.
On the lower steerage decks less than seven feet from floor to ceiling may be allowed if there is thirty square feet of floor space per passenger. This same extra allowance of floor space must be made also if light and air are admitted to the steerage through apertures averaging less than three square feet to every one hundred square feet of deck surface.
Sailing vessels must allow at least one hundred and ten cubic feet per immigrant, and will be forbidden to carry passengers in any "between-decks" or in any space having less than six feet from floor to ceiling.
That vessel owners may have ample time in which to make these alterations, this wise reform will not go into effect until January 1, 1909, after which all ships bringing immigrants or other steerage passengers to our ports will have to comply or pay $50 fine for each passenger not given the required space and fresh air.
Of course if we are to breed a healthier race we must import healthier parents for that race ; and the new law takes this into account. The former law closed our gates to certain mental, moral and physical defectives, but the new law increases the number of excluded classes.
It bars out consumptives—all "persons afflicted with tuberculosis." The White Plague is thus specifically mentioned for the first time in an immigration law. The fact that this grim disease is claiming about 146,000 of our population per year, which is more than the annual mortality average of both armies in our Civil War, sufficed to move the framers of the new law to this reform.
Science has lately pointed to the fact that consumption is particularly prevalent in this country among foreign-born inhabitants who have settled in localities differing in climate from those to which they have become habituated in youth at the old home.
And then there are added to the list of excluded classes all imbeciles, feebleminded persons and those so defective mentally and physically that their ability to make a living is affected. During last year in particular there was noted by the examining surgeons of the immigration service an increased number of weak-minded or imbecile aliens, whose cases were not so marked as to justify the diagnosis of idiocy or insanity required by the old law, but who nevertheless threw serious doubts on their ability to support themselves.
That immigration has by now nearly skimmed off the cream of the old world's peasantry must indeed appear to anyone who compares the medical reports made by our immigrant inspectors in recent years. Lately there has been a significant increase of persons who under the old law have had to be passed by the immigration surgeons, but who have been marked as of "poor physique."
This marking has implied that the subject has been undersized or poorly developed; has feeble heart action, arteries below the standard size, etc. ; in other words, as one of the surgeons explains, that he has become physically degenerate, and, hence, is especially undesirable as a citizen.
"That the physical and mental quality of the aliens we are now receiving is much below that of those who have come in former years is evident," says Commissioner General Sargent. He recently instituted an investigation of the charitable institutions of the country, and actually found 30,000 alien paupers, including lunatics, in our public institutions, besides 5,000 more in private institutions. Then he found about 10,000 alien criminals in our penal institutions, making altogether a grand total of 45,000 aliens in institutions, all but 5,000 of them supported at public expense.
In addition he found in these institutions about 65,000 naturalized foreigners. New York state was found to be supporting 12,440 insane criminal and pauper aliens ; Pennsylvania, 5,000; Massachusetts, 5,400; and Illinois, 3,350. But the most striking fact gathered by the Commissioner General was that while in the United States there are seventy-five citizens to each alien there are in our insane asylums and poorhouses only six citizens to each alien.
The new law further provides that any alien woman or girl found to be living the life of a prostitute at any time within three years after entering the country shall be deported. This provision will give the government a powerful weapon with which to attack the "white slave" octopus, which has become so formidable of late in New York and other large cities.
But in the hands of the unscrupulous police of some cities and of other subordinates in the machinery of government it would be a powerful instrument. with which , to exact blackmail from the innocent.
Women constitute only a small minority of our immigrants. It has always been so. Last year with the 764,463 men admitted to our land there came only 336,272 women. In his quest of picturesque human types the artist can search the whole world over, but no single spot can offer such a variety of womankind as is to be found at Ellis Island—the funnel-neck through which the old world pours into the new.
Lacking only the background of their home environment, he finds passing through this labyrinth of mysterious aisles and entry ways, the Dutch maiden in her quaint white cap, the bareheaded girl of Southern Italy with her gold-hooped ears, the olive-skinned Arab beauty with black eyes flashing the fire of the East, the broad-lipped maid of Russia, the broad-browed miss of Switzerland, the freckled colleen of old Erin, and the bonny Scotch lassie with her sandy hair.
There is scarce a hat in a whole shipload of this raw material out of which is to be molded our future Venuses. There are head scarfs and head shawls of all kinds, all colors, all materials; from all countries, all climes, all points of the compass. Today they enter the land of promise, bag upon back and all their worldly goods therein. But, what a metamorphosis within only a season hence, or even a month! Nowhere on the continent whence they came would such a transformation be possible. A peasant passing from Russia into Germany, France, Italy, Spain, or from any of these lands into the other would still remain a peasant.
The vast majority of our newly-welcomed alien women are good and pure. But there are webs drawn across the very portals of our immigrant stations—webs whose meshes are fashioned to catch them. Dire punishment is to be meted out also to these spiders which prey upon the innocent maidenhood of the old world's peasantry.
Werth, John Elfreth, "A Case on Appeal: Two Immigrants Marked for Deportation before Commissioner of Immigration, Ellis Island, " Technical World Magazine, Volume VIII, No. 5, July 1907