A Multitude of Immigrants


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From an article in the New York Tribune, dated December 18, 1905:



Foreign Doctors Make Undesirable Aliens Able to Enter.

That diseased European immigrants are "doctored up" in great numbers for shipment to this country, is the charge made by Dr. Maurice Fishberg, of this city, a special inspector of the immigration service of the United States, who recently returned from abroad. Dr. Fishberg spent several months in the Old World, visiting the European terminals of the big transatlantic steamship lines, and making a special study of the shipping of Russian immigrants across the German frontier. Inasmuch as a tremendous increase in the immigration of Russian Jews to this country is under way just now, Dr. Fishberg's observations are of special importance because of their timeliness. Most of the things which the doctor saw abroad are incorporated in a report which he made to the Commissioner General of Immigration, at Washington. Dr. Fishberg said yesterday at his home, No. 79 West 115th-st.:

The "curing" of diseased aliens for admission to the United States has become a tremendous industry abroad. Ramifications of the business may be found at Liverpool, London, Southampton, Marseilles and at various frontier cities of Russia and Austria-Hungary. In these cities I have personally visited boarding houses and so-called "hospitals" where immigrants suffering from trachoma in its most advanced stages were being treated that they might pass inspection and enter the United States.

Trachoma is a disease of the eye of which America has a special horror. When transplanted to the tenement regions of New-York City it spreads rapidly and becomes almost as virulent as in the Orient. By the New-York Board of health it is especially dreaded, and the authorities at the various immigration ports of this country are trying with might and main to keep it out.

In Marseilles the "treatment" of trachoma has assumed remarkable dimensions. Here most of the immigrants from the Orient, from Syria, Armenia and neighboring countries, come on their way to the United States. Most of the immigrants report to a man by the name of Anton Fares, who refers them to certain boarding houses. Later they are sent to Dr. G. Reynaut, No. 20 Boulevard d'Athenče, for examination. Those who are found free from contagious diseases receive tickets and are at once shipped to Havre. But as soon as one of these Orientals is discovered to have trachoma, Fares takes hold of the unfortunate immigrant and says:

"There are only two ways open to you. You can either go by way of St. Nazaire to Mexico, where I have agents to conduct you across the frontier into the United States, or you can go to a doctor here and get cured. Now, the first plan is expensive and dangerous, but the doctor is very successful."

Of course the poor fellow goes to the doctor, who, by the way, does a flourishing business. I met more than one hundred immigrants every day I visited the clinic. The charge is one franc for each treatment, and some of these unfortunate patients have told me that they have been under the doctor's care for more than two months. When "cured" they are generally sent to Havre and then shipped to New-York. The treatment is frequently continued until the immigrant's purse is all but emptied.

This business is used also to fleece the healthy Oriental. Fares has a practice, which, I believe, is peculiar to himself, of having immigrants treated for trachoma who have no trachoma at all. These generally have money, and are referred by Fares to the doctor, who tells him they have trachoma, but that it is curable. One franc a day is charged for the treatment, three or four for board and lodging, and this is kept up for a month. When declared "cured," the victim is charged more than the usual price for a steamship ticket. Such individuals are, as a rule, never deported for eye disease, and accordingly become excellent advertisements for Fares.

This man Fares is well known to the French authorities, and has repeatedly been under charges for cheating immigrants. He has a newspaper to boom his business, which has a wide circulation in Syria. He ships from forty to fifty immigrants a week, and stops at nothing in dealing with them.

The Russian Hebrew comes to America chiefly by way of Germany, either sailing directly from Bremen or Hamburg, or going to England and embarking from a British port. Little is done at Bremen or Hamburg to patch up immigrants, but at the stations along the Russian and Austrian borders the practice is common. I have personally met more than fifty trachomatous immigrants in a hospital at Thorn, on the Russian-Polish border. Health certificates have been refused all of them by the steamship physicians, who told them to go home. When they said, however, that they had money enough for a "cure," they were sent to a hospital run by the daughter of a steamship agent. Some of the patients told me they had stayed there for two months. Few are "cured" in one month. They pay three marks a day for the use of the hospital and two marks for medical treatment; $1.25 a day in all. Similar "hospitals" are found at other control stations on the border, where Russian immigrants are held up.

In most cases the so-called "cure" is only temporary. Immediately after the treatment the immigrant's eyes lose their redness, the inflammation of the eyelids disappears, and tears cease to flow. Sometimes the "cure" will last only overnight. In other cases the eyes are not again affected for weeks.

When a Russian Jew who has undergone such treatment passes the inspection of the German official at the border, he is frequently sent to New-York, whether he wants to go or not. He is regarded as the legitimate prey of certain steamship companies. For example, I have heard such talk as this at the border stations:

Agent:--Where are you going?
Immigrant--To England.
Agent--You are a liar; you are going to America. Show me how much money you've got.

The immigrant produces his money, which the agent takes, handing back a through ticket to New-York, and the change, in German money. Of course, the agent gets his commission from the steamship company. If an immigrant fears that his eyes will hurt him again he buys a second-class ticket, and so escapes inspection by the steamship physician at Bremen or Hamburg. I have often heard steamship agents on the border advise diseased immigrants to take a second-class passage, which, they say, will get them through safely.

Other Russian immigrants, fearing deportation at New-York, manage to get to England and attend eye clinics at Liverpool and London. Here they are told that Ellis Island will certainly catch them, but if they go to Boston or Philadelphia they can land. Some, however, go to Canada, hoping to reach the United States that way. One Liverpool boarding house is kept by Andrew Barber, at No. 5 Kent-st. Barber told me that he could get anybody through. He said the steamship doctors examine the first cases thoroughly, but let the last few through "easy."

For the purpose of appearing in good shape at Ellis Island, the American port, and evading the inspectors, immigrants with trachoma frequently use a drug called adrenaline. This immediately stops the inflammation of the eyelids by causing local anemia. They carry the stuff in a vial secreted in their clothes. As its effect soon wears off, immigrants have to repeat the treatment again and again on the sly.

The use of adrenaline, however, does not always fool the inspectors, and I believe that at Ellis Island these fakers are generally caught. The drug gives the eye a certain paleness which, by an experienced inspector, can be detected.

Dr. Fishberg emphasized the fact that Commissioner Watchorn, at Ellis Island, was doing all in his power to catch "doctored" aliens. He said that in his opinion, better work could not be done. Yet he said Ellis Island should not have to bear the brunt of the fight against the diseased alien. The law by which a steamship company was fined $100 for every diseased alien caught aboard, he said, was not a sufficient deterrent.

"There should be a rigid inspection on the other side," he said. "Marine Hospital officials ought to be stationed at all the important immigrant stations of Europe. The Marine Hospital service of the United States is famous for its efficiency, and it would thus head off the tide of disease at its source. Naples is the only European port at the present time where officials of this service are now stationed, and their vigilant and thorough work there has let few diseased immigrants through."

The doctor said that such an extension of the Marine Hospital service had been strongly recommended by Mr. Sargent, the Commissioner General of Immigration, who, he added, was doing all that was possible to "keep the shores of America clean."


Also see the ERC's page on trachoma and the inspection process
conducted by inspectors at Ellis Island by clicking here.




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