Steamship Companies and Immigration
It is a rather significant fact that, following the close of the year that broke all records for immigration, charities should come out with a number devoted almost exclusively to this problem.
It would appear from the contents of the magazine that it is, in fact, largely a charity problem. One cartoonist not long ago hit off the situation as he saw it by drawing an immense steamship, one end touching Europe and the other America, with hordes of emigrants trooping from the poor-houses of their countries to the poor-houses of our own.
Most of the immigrants who make the movement a “problem" come from southern Europe, and within the last few months a new steamship line has been started between New York and Odessa, which will tap the Russian Jew region, and half a dozen lines are putting in new service, or increasing the old, to Mediterranean ports.
Some seven thousand agents of the steamship companies, we are told by Robert Ward in Charities, are distributed over Italy alone to “drum up" immigration to America, with a corresponding number in other countries; and he predicts that in a “few years, as the number and size of steamships increase still further, we may easily have two million newcomers every year.”
He continues: “The number and the size of Atlantic steamers increase every year, and the sailings are being rapidly extended to ports with which we had but little, or even no, direct communication a few years ago. Thus, we have all seen a very rapid development of passenger steamship service from New York and Boston to the Italian, African, Austrian, and Asian ports of the Mediterranean.
Every such extension means more immigrants. Many have noticed the increase in the number of Italians in Boston since the Dominion steamers began to run between Boston and the Mediterranean, and it is not an altogether gratifying piece of news to read that the White Star Line, in its new Boston-Mediterranean service, is to put on large ships and have frequent and regular sailings; nor is it pleasant to be told that the Cunard Line, which is fighting the International Mercantile Marine, is to compete for a share of the emigrant trafiic from the Mediterranean by putting on steamers between New York and Mediterranean ports.
This move on the part of the Cunard Line means probably at least twenty-five thousand more immigrants a year from southern Europe, Africa, and Asia.
“The fight for immigrants in the Mediterranean, between the Hamburg-American, North German Lloyd, International Mercantile Marine, and now the Cunard companies, simply means that thousands of persons, who have perhaps never even thought of leaving their Old-World homes will come to us, under the stimulus of the steamship agent's power of persuasion.
The recent establishment of a new line of steamers between New York and Odessa is distinctly a move to increase the emigration of Russian Jews from that port, and that it will have that effect no one can fail to see.
“There is absolutely no doubt that a large part of our present immigration is thus artificially stimulated. During the past summer, an agent of the Treasury Department made an investigation of this matter in Europe, and found that the steamship companies have secret paid agents or solicitors to drum up steerage passengers. "
Among these paid agents there are school-teachers, postmasters, notaries, and even priests, peasants, and pedlers. In this way there is little difficulty in filling the steerages, and the people who fill them are among the poorest, most ignorant, most degraded of their communities. . . .
“Foreign steamship companies, aided by large employers of labor here, are importing human beings like cattle, absolutely regardless of the welfare of the country or of the people who are brought."
The kind of immigration here referred to has been described as ‘Pipe-Line Immigration’ by one writtr (General Walker), and as a more and more thorough ‘drainage’ of the inland regions of Europe by another (james Bryce).
A very different type of character was demanded fifty years ago, when our immigrants came by sailing-vessels, enduring a long, hard voyage, and paying a high passage rate.
The large emigration, back to Europe, which has crowded the steerages of outgoing steamers during the weeks preceding Christmas, is an annually recurring movement, which always attracts attention in our newspapers.
This retum does not in any way affect the general proposition before us.
"The people who go back spend the holidays and the winter in their old homes; leave the money they have earned there, and come back in the spring, bringing their relatives and friends with them. This emigration and the subsequent return to this country increases when we have prosperous times here, and when these people can afford to go home."
The Literary Digest, Vol. XXVIII, No. 11, March 12, 1904, p. 360