Immigration After The First World War
By Frederic C. Howe, Commissioner of Immigration at the Port of New York
WHAT will be the effect of the European war on immigration? This is a question of portentous interest; an issue far more critical, in fact, than the impact of the war upon trade and commerce, for the life of America is being profoundly influenced by the alien blood and alien traditions which, in recent years, have come in increasing volume from the Slavic and Latin countries of the south of Europe rather than from the Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic countries of the north.
Already, in many of the industrial cities to the east of the Mississippi and north of the Ohio Rivers, the foreign-born population and the children of the foreign-born amount to seventy-five percent of the total, while the foreign-born population of the country as a whole has risen to over 13,000,000, or one-eighth of the total.
For several years incoming immigrants have numbered over 1,000,000 persons a year, of which from 300,000 to 400,000 returned to their native lands. Since the outbreak of the war, however, immigration has fallen to one-sixth of this number.
The tide has turned. In the past ten months, more people have left America than entered it. Military service at home and the closing of many of the ports of Europe have placed an embargo on the human tide, which in recent years has come predominantly from Italy, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and the Balkan states.
In 1913, when immigration reached a total of 1,197,892, northern Europe, including Great Britain, contributed only 137,225 of this number, while southern Europe contributed 718,905.
Of the latter, 236,478 came from Italy, 212,692 from Russia, and 225,355 from Austria-Hungary. The only north-European immigration of any consequence in recent years is from Scandinavia and Great Britain.
France has never been generous in her contributions to our ethnic composite; while for twenty years, Germany has been an almost negligible factor. Immigration from the latter country has fallen to 23,731 in 1912, 28,983 in 1913, and 29,982 in 1914.
As a matter of fact, more people immigrate to Germany than out of it. Nor has crowded Belgium made any substantial additions to our population, even though people live more densely packed in that little nation than in any country of Europe.
The results of the war are a subject of conjecture. It is claimed by some that, irrespective of the outcome, European nations will gird their loins to repair the ravages of the war.
They will prohibit emigration in so far as they can. Their energies will be devoted to the rehabilitation of their wasted places, to the planting of crops, the manning of mills, the rebuilding of roads and homes, and the re-establishment of industry.
They will struggle to regain lost markets and, under the militaristic regime that has been developed, state activities will be carried to far greater lengths than ever before. There will be an organized effort to keep people at home.
By others, it is claimed that millions will flee the Old World to avoid militaristic conditions; they will seek to escape the burdens of taxation; they will be driven by want and despair to find a freer home in a new land.
Both of these conjectures are probably in part correct. Immigration from some countries will cease, while immigration from other countries will be accelerated. New currents will be set in motion that will change the character of immigration, as well as its volume.
Modern social necessities will improve the functions of government. At the same time, the war itself will profoundly alter human psychology, which, in turn, will profoundly affect the new Völkerwanderung, which for at least twenty centuries has been moving steadily toward the west.
It is safe to assume that Germany will permit as few of her people to migrate as possible. Germany is the most socialized state in the modern world. She owns the railroads, express, telegraph, and telephone lines. Individual states possess and operate coal mines, the potash industry, snicking works, and great hydro-electric power stations.
At the same time, the cities own not only the public-service corporations but perform a great variety of other undertakings as well.
Great agricultural estates are owned by the states and cities, as are forest preserves. Docks, harbors, canals, and waterways form part of the transportation system. At the same time, the state is a partner in a variety of other enterprises.
Over 3,000,000 men are employed in the state civil service, and, exclusive of the profits of the cities, more than $280,000,000 is earned every year from the various state undertakings, whose aggregate value exceeds seven billion dollars.
Germany has an efficient civil service; the traditions of the state are those of paternalism, which the war has carried to far greater extremes than prevailed in a time of peace.
Undoubtedly, when the war is over, the existing militaristic organization will be applied to reconstruction, and every effort will be bent to recapture the trade that has been lost, to regain a position on the seas, and to rebuild the fatherland.
The same forces will be set in motion in England. The railways have already been temporarily nationalized as a war emergency measure. Millions have been appropriated by Parliament for the building of workingman's homes.
Steps have been taken for the partial nationalization of the food supply, and laws have been passed permitting the government to enlist any factory or manufacturing plant and transform it into an establishment for the production of munitions of war—a measure more sweeping and revolutionary than any social legislation ever adopted by that country.
At a single stroke, a condition has been created beyond the dreams of socialism for many years to come.
The war has changed the old individualism, which has dominated. English thought since the time of Napoleon. It has altered the negative philosophy of Adam Smith, Ricardo, and Herbert Spencer, who have insisted that the state should keep out of the industry and interfere with its operations as little as possible. Great Britain will find it impossible to go back to the individualism of bygone days when the war is over.
Her necessity will be as high as those of Germany. She, too, will direct her energies to industrial rehabilitation, in which she will have the backing of the large labor group in the nation. Great Britain, like Germany, will seek to keep her people at home.
Belgium may be a memory; she may be a nation. If the latter, the labor party, which, before the war, was one of the largest single groups in this little kingdom and its most vital political and social force, will undoubtedly be recognized; it may be ascendant. It already has a strong group in the senate and the lower house.
Belgium, too, had developed the co-operative idea through co-operative associations, which were among the most wonderful in Europe.
Already the foundations had been laid for a social program through the organization of labor groups in Parliament and the cities with total voting membership in the country of over 500,000.
The patriotism of the Belgians and their affection for their land is evidenced by the fact that only a handful has come to America since the outbreak of the war, despite the millions who have been dispossessed of their homes and all that they possess.
What is true of Germany, England and Belgium are only less valid in France. She, too, will have enormous waste stretches to rebuild; she, also, has a socialistic ministry with a particular political and social program.
And socialization will undoubtedly be carried to a great extent by this country. State socialism on an unprecedented scale will undoubtedly be one of the by-products of the war all over Europe.
In addition to the efforts of the state, the loss of from 6,000,000 to 10,000,000 able-bodied men will create a labor vacuum. Mills, mines, and factories will find difficulty in securing employees; the farms will be denuded of men. Eastern Europe has been overrun by armies, as has northern France.
This shortage of labor, together with the efforts of the nations to quickly rebuild their industries, will lead to an increase in wages, an inevitable rise. In addition to this, all life has been disorganized, and men will return to their work with old traditions destroyed and a new sense of personal power.
Under these conditions, wages may rise very rapidly: They may increase to some-thing like parity with wages in the United States. This will keep men at home. It may bring about a reversal of the immigration current and lure workers to these countries from America.
For along with the stream of incoming aliens, there is always a counter-current of out-going ones. Between 300,000 and 400,000 aliens leave America each year to return to their native lands.
They take with them their accumulations. They acquire small holdings, open shops, and spend the balance of their life in their old home surroundings. There is no in-dissoluble affection on the part of many foreigners for America.
And, with wage conditions improved, there is no reason why hundreds of thousands of the more recent arrivals., who have not taken root in this country, should not return to their native lands under more favorable economic and social conditions.
These are some of the forces which will tend to check immigration and the most desirable immigration. It will keep the able-bodied, the well and strong, at home, who have always been welcome to America and who have contributed so much to our industrial development.
But while state action, the re-establishment of industry, and a labor vacuum will keep many men and women at home, other forces will be set in motion, which will drive them to this country.
They may come in such numbers as to create the most severe immigration problem we have ever had, and one that will tax our sympathies and emotions far more than the individual cases that now present themselves to the immigration authorities.
In the first place, there will probably be from 6,000,000 to 10,000,000 widows or dependent women left husbandless, fatherless, and destitute by the war.
Possibly twice as many children will be bereft of their providers. Many of them have lost their homes; they will not be wanted by any of the contending nations. They will be an additional burden in the period of reconstruction.
Millions of these women and children have friends and relatives in the United States to whom they will extend appealing arms. This is especially true of Russia, Austria-Hungary, Poland, Italy, and the Balkans. All of these nations, also, except for Italy, have been ravished by the war; in some parts, the entire country has been laid waste.
War is always the hardest on the Jews. They have no voice in the government. They are subjects of personal and official persecution. And the centers of Jewish emigration are in the eastern war zone. Jewish immigration to this country is assisted, as is that of other nations, by friends already in the country, who give generously to the oppressed of their race and have organized agencies for the distribution of incoming Jews and the find-ing of places of employment for them.
The stories of Jewish outrages have quickened the ready sympathies of the American Jew, and undoubtedly when the censorship is raised, and the stories of atrocities find their way to this country Jewish immigration will be stimulated at a more rapid rate than ever before.
Immigration from southern Europe will probably continue to predominate and will likely increase in volume. Italy, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and the Balkan states are not as efficiently organized as are Germany, England, and France.
They are not experienced in a state or socialized effort. These are peasant countries with but few large clans. A vast majority of the people live upon the land, much of which has been fought over and from which the horses and livestock and growing crops have been requested so that it will be almost impossible to re-establish agriculture for many years to come.
Hope in these countries will be at a low ebb, while a large part of the able-bodied population will be gone. Already in many sections, only old women and children remain. There will undoubtedly be substantial immigration from these countries.
The immigration of women and children will also undoubtedly reach massive proportions. This change is already manifest. They, too, will be assisted to come.
Not by foreign governments seeking to dump their undesirables, but by relatives in this country who send money, who write about conditions in America, who lure old neighbors by stories of high wages, improved social and political conditions, by tales of achievement on the part of their children, and who advance the cost of transportation and sufficient "show-money " to enable the alien to pass the immigration inspector.
From seventy to eighty percent of the immigration from the south of Europe is probably assisted in this way, and fully eighty percent of the incoming immigrants are ticketed to some friend in this country, who "grub-stakes" them, finds employment, and cares for them until they secure a footing.
Other influences will stimulate immigration from all of the contending nations.
From 15,000,000 to 20,000,000 men have been taken from the factories, the mines, the mills, and from agricultural labor. They had experienced the freedom they have never before enjoyed.
They have been thrown upon their own resources and have lived their own lives with their fellows in the trenches. A spirit of independence will have been created and with it a restless, roving disinclination to the old humdrum life of the farm or the mill.
A kind of freedom and resourcefulness will be created, and the psychology of all Europe will be changed. A new spirit of independence will probably take the place of the feudalistic life previously accepted as inevitable. Many of these restless mil-lions will resent their former condition.
They will prize their newly experienced freedom. Also, home ties will have been broken. Old connections will have been destroyed. Many will have ac-quired the tramp and vagrant spirit.
Hundreds of thousands of these men may be led to migrate by a restless, roving, unsettled instinct, and this, too, will increase the flow to America.
Added to these are the weakened and enfeebled men; those who have been un-balanced, possibly crazed, by their experiences at the front. There will be millions of diseased, wounded, and crippled who will have to be pensioned at home or supported by public relief.
Many of these have friends in America, and they, too, will turn their faces toward the land of hope that has lured their friends and neighbors in previous generations.
Millions are living in conquered territory under a foreign flag. What will bat pen to them? Will the conquering or the defeated nations absorb them, or will they be thrown upon the world to find a pleasant resting-place as best they may?
Finally, every man, woman, and child of the four hundred million people
in the warring countries has suffered from it. The vast majority were living close to the margin of poverty before the wart they have been suffering untold privation during it.
And the years which follow will be even worse,: because of the devastation which has taken place, the mull which will only be realized in the yeast follow when the workers are again thrown on their own resources, This is particularly true of agriculture, in which pursue the majority of the people were engaged.
Taxation in half of Europe was at that limit of human endurance before the war broke out, and the burdens of debt charges, of future army maintenance, of pensions, of national rebuilding will be almost if not wholly unsupportable.
Exhausting, as universal military service is the exhaustion of universal tax service, maybe almost equally unsupportable. A few years ago, it would have been said that such burdens as having already been created would have been impossible.
When to this is added the bankruptcy of a large part of the people, complete insolvency seems among the possible consequences of the war.
Taxation must leave living for the worker; for years to now, it should leave a large margin for the upbuilding of industry and the restocking of farms. The problem of the peace financier seems almost as complicated as those of the war minister at the present time.
A population four times that of the United States is in a state of industrial and social chaos. The old order az never be re-established. Millions of men are in movement, and tens of millions more are impoverished, disabled, and close to poverty.
Millions will never take up their old life again. Millions more will be unable to do so. Women and children will be a burden, and taxation and public needs will tax the resources of the nation to the limit.
National boundaries may change. Some countries may newt emerge from the war. Vast stretches may become barren waste.
Under such conditions as these, all Europe may turn wistful glances to a country that is free from war and the hazards of war; to a land of political liberty and low taxation; and millions in Europe may clamor at the ports of embarkation in the hope of a new chance in a new world.
What shall we do about it? How shall we face this human appeal, the most pa-thetic that has ever confronted us, a request, too, that will be repeated from among the 13,000,000 foreign-born already in America and the 18,000,000 immediate descendants of those of foreign birth?
Shall we tighten our laws and close our doors to those who, for three centuries, have found an asylum from religious and political oppression, or shall our traditional policy of an open the door to the fit and able-bodied be maintained?
Fortunately, no legislation is necessary to meet the problem of the physically unfit, for the present immigration laws are selective, i. e., they refuse to admit the weak and the infirm, those afflicted with contagious or infectious diseases, those who have a criminal record behind them, and those who are likely to become a public charge.
And under these laws, 16,588 persons were denied admission in 1914 or 1.64 percent of those who sought admission. Enforcement of existing laws involves indescribable hardships to those who come to us in the hope of asylum. And these adverse decisions will undoubtedly be increased many times when the war is over.
There is no likelihood of these restraints being weakened, for there are none who would open our doors to those who are likely to become a public charge or those who will add a strain of feeble-mindedness, stupidity, or insanity to our population.
The laws that now exist are adequate to protect us from the classes enumerated, with the possible exception of those who, moved by restless discontent, are unwilling to return to their old associations and employments.
The test will come if Europe fails to find work for its people, for its millions of returning soldiers. In that event, we may be faced with the most severe immigration problem that has ever confronted us, a problem, too, confused by sympathy and a profound desire to aid, as best we can, in the rehabilitation of the world.
Frederic C. Howe, "Immigration After the War," in Scribner's Magazine, New York: Scharles Scribner's Sons, Vol. LVIII, No. 5, November 1916, pp. 635-639.