the New-York Daily Tribune, April 22, 1906
SOME TRAPS WHICH ARE BAITED FOR UNWARY IMMIGRANTS.
Often Swindled by Their Own Countrymen Who
Familiar with Ropes Here and Show a Cruel Cunning.
Milwaukee?" called out a seamy-faced earringed Italian of middle age
to a Tribune representative. The latter was standing at the east end
of the big immigration building on Ellis Island watching the stream
of immigrants stagger along under loads of baggage toward the boat
which was to take them to the railroad station. It was only a drop
in the stream which has been pouring into the country at the rate of
five thousand a day all last week. They were in good spirits, for
the day was mild, the sky as blue as the Italian heavens, the water
of the bay beyond as blue as the sky, and at last they had been
released from the steamship which had brought they to land where
liberty of opportunity prevails. They were on their way to the West.
The grizzled Neapolitan drew out of the hurrying tide for an instant
to ask the first person who looked like a personage of authority if
he was going in the right direction.
Fortunately for the Italian, the
newspaper man was not a rotund boarding house runner grown fat on
the pickings of the immigrant business, or a hack driver seeking his
prey, or he might have been drawn aside and told that Milwaukee lay
just across the blue waters of the bay, where the church towers of
Brooklyn could be seen, and that he, the runner, would take him to
It is this
innocent childlike dependence upon any one at hand that makes the
immigrant such an easy mark. Within the last two or three years
every safeguard imaginable has been thrown about him. Still he goes
astray. The resourceful runner is rigidly excluded from Ellis
Island. Not an immigrant is permitted to depart without official
escort, or absolute assurance that he is able to take care of
himself or in the hands of his friends. He is personally conducted
to the railway station or to his destination if intending to stay in
New York. Missionaries distribute leaflets in the different
languages describing the pitfalls that await him. Yet he is still
captured by the sharps.
Only the other day one of these
resourceful parasites was discovered selling the smudgy tickets of
the elevated system to unsophisticated foreigners at 25 cents each.
Another of this brotherhood proved his fellow only a novice by
persuading an immigrant to give up $5 for one of the dingy red
five-cent slips of cardboard by telling him that it was a ticket to
Even some of the precautions taken by
the Commissioner of Immigration to protect the greenhorn is
sometimes used to deceive him. Every person who has any official
connection with the handling of immigrants on Ellis Island must wear
a uniform. Even the missionaries are obliged to have something about
them to indicate that they have a right to talk with the immigrants.
The immigrant in his innocence before he leaves the island concludes
that every person who wears brass buttons is one of Uncle Sam's
guardians, designated to assist him and authorized to look at and
change his money into coin of the country. As he climbs the stairs
to the strange railroad on stilts he meets a man wearing an
overcoat. The stranger throws open his overcoat. Ah, yes, it is an
official, for there are the brass buttons. The luggage is
laboriously set down in order that he may show his money as he has
already been obliged to do twice before on Ellis Island. What
happens next is illustrated by an incident that occurred recently.
A number of immigrants bound for points
in Connecticut and Rhode Island had been escorted to the Grand
Central Station. While they were waiting for the train to be made
up, a man with shining buttons of golden hue approached. He beckoned
to them, and they like children followed the piper. He played dulcet
tones until they reached his home in East 15th street. There he
asked to see their capital, informing them that it ought to be
changed. Their idea of how the money was to be changed and his were
different. They had already received American money for their
foreign bills on Ellis Island. One of the adult children handed him
$30 and received in exchange $8. The immigrant bowed low in
thankfulness for the kindness of the official in straightening out
his finances. A second produced $15, and the exchange was productive
of proportionate shrinkage. It is pleasing to be able to record that
that particular parasite has made another exchange--that of freedom
for the penitentiary.
VILLAINS IN WAIT.
How immigrant girls are sometimes caught
in the toils was illustrated a couple of weeks ago. In the steerage
of the steamer Rugia, which arrived here from Hamburg on April 7,
was a Russian peasant girl, nineteen years old, Ursa Tenkowitz by
name. She was alone and was going to her father, who was in Exeter,
N. H. She was detained for two days until her father sent her $15.
Late in the afternoon of April 9 she was allowed to leave Ellis
Island to go to Exeter. In the rush she failed to get her railroad
ticket, and was permitted to leave the building and go to the
ferryboat which runs to the Barge Office.
When she left the ferryboat she carried
in her hand a slip marked with her destination. As she came through
the gate a dark-skinned Italian saw it. He followed her through the
crowd, and observing on the slip the name of the town to which she
was going, he accosted her. In the Italian's skillful use of the
sign language he conveyed to the girl the impression that he was
going to the same place and would take her there. She followed him
to the elevated station and they took a Ninth avenue train. He led
her from the train at 125th street. When they reached the foot of
the long stairs the girl evidently had made up her mind that
something was wrong. A. F. Post, of Edgewater, N. J., who was on his
way to the Fort Lee ferry, saw the girl endeavoring to leave the
man. The Italian took her arm and forced her to get on a car with
him. At the ferry he was joined by several of his countrymen, who
showed an interest in the girl. Upon reaching the New Jersey side
she made a vigorous effort to free herself from the men, but they
forced her to board the waiting car. Mr. Post interfered at this
juncture and had the Italian arrested. He proved to be an Italian
immigrant who came to this country last September and who was living
near Edgewater. He was indicted for assault and battery and
kidnapping by the Bergen County Grand Jury.
Apparently the Italian peasant has as
much need to be on his guard against the wiles of his countrymen as
Caesar had in his day. In New York are sixty or seventy Italian
banks. The are not banks after the manner of American institutions
of that description, but serve the Italian as a connecting link with
his new environment as well as with his old home. The "bank" is
often his first destination in this country. It finds him a job. It
looks after his money--so thoroughly sometimes that he does not see
the color of his wages for a long time. Its character brings it
under the observation of the Commissioner of Licenses. It is from
these "banks" that railroad companies and lumber companies, and
sometimes mining corporations, secure their labor. The "bank" is
asked to furnish so many hands, and the "bank" provides the goods,
taking toll from the corporation in the form of a concession to feed
the laborers, and if possible securing from the laborer a fee for
giving him a job.
This is the way the "bank" secures its
labor and treats it, according to John N. Bogert, Commissioner of
From time to time Italians return to
their old homes. They carry back with them the information that so
and so can find a job for his neighbors.
"He is our countryman; he will treat you
right," they say to those trusting ones. Sometimes this service is
performed by regular agents. When one of these neighbors starts for
the new country he makes his destination the "banker," who, he has
heard, will treat him so kindly. He is escorted with his baggage to
the "bank" and finds that employment is awaiting him. He is to go
with 150 others to a Southern point to work on a railroad. His wages
are to be $1.25 a day. The "banker" has secured the concession to
board and lodge his countrymen. The railroad company lends the
"banker" a few discarded freight cars. These are shunted to a
siding, where the laborer is to be employed. Bags are strewn about
the cars in order to make the boards a little more comfortable when
the men lie on them at night. For accommodation in this palatial
lodging house the Italian is charged possibly $1 a week. The laborer
is charged 75 cents a day, perhaps, for his food. This is possibly
no more than hard bread and bologna sausages, costing the "banker"
only a few cents a day--five cents, Mr. Bogert said. When payday
comes around, the representative of the "banker" is on hand to
indicate to the paymaster how much each laborer owes him. The
laborer does not receive much money in return for his month's toll.
Even when he learns that he is not getting what is due him, he does
not lay the blame on the right shoulders, but ascribes it to the
laws of the country. His faith in the "banker" continues.
A case that recently came before the
Commissioner of Licenses illustrates the way in which the foreigner,
and many poor Americans, for that matter, are fleeced. At the
hearing eleven men testified to the same facts. They were sent South
with many others, some of them boys only sixteen years old, by a
Prince street agency, to work for a Florida railroad company.
Altogether 3,685 men were taken South. According to their stories
they were told that they were to get $1.75 a day, their
transportation in both directions and their board. This looked like
a bonanza as bright as Eden looked to be to Martin Chuzzlewit and
Mark Tapley. They were put to work on an island at $1.25 a day, and
not only were they obliged to pay board, but deductions were made
for their railroad fare from the North, so that they received no
money at all. Five of the men testified that when they left camp
after brutal treatment the company took their return tickets from
them. They walked seventy miles to Miami. Having insufficient money
to get home again, they tried "jumping" freight trains and were
arrested by a sheriff, who received as a reward $3 for each man he
captured. They were sentenced to ninety days in the chain gang.
After serving their sentences they managed to get North again. The
eleven men were the only ones who escaped so far as was known.
A few months ago Isidor Herz, of No. 2
Carlisle street, said to be one of the largest agents in the labor
business, clearing $40,000 a year, was deprived of his license by
Commissioner Keating, on the ground that he had made
misrepresentations to immigrants. It was charged that he hired two
hundred men, telling them that they would get good wages and there
would be no trouble. They were packed into a special train. There
was a guard armed with a club and a pistol stationed at each car
door, so that no one could pass in our out. The guards were said to
be deputy sheriffs. For two days the men travelled in this way in
day coaches. Their food consisted of stale bologna sausages. The
drinking water, what there was of it, naturally became ill-smelling.
When they reached their destination they learned that they were to
work in coal mines, and that they were to break a strike. Some of
the men tried to escape, but could not, for they were watched by
armed men. Finally three or four got away and tramped all the way
back from the South to New York. Their journey consumed two months.
Commissioner Bogert has had cards
prepared in Italian for the information of immigrants of that
nationality regarding their rights.
F. L. C. Keating, formerly Commissioner
of Licenses, and counsel of the Italian agents' Society, estimates
that 100,000 immigrants are sent out by the employment agencies in
the course of a year, and one agency finds employment for from
25,000 to 30,000. The number of immigrants who have arrived at Ellis
Island since last Sunday is 31,000.