A Multitude of Immigrants


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From The New-York Daily Tribune, dated July 29, 1903:


Abolition of Consular Supervision--Safeguards Urgently Needed.

London, July 15.

The alarming increase of immigration from impoverished districts of Southeastern Europe has not escaped observation in the United States. Mr. Braun, a confidential agent of the Bureau of Immigration, has supplied valuable information from Hungary, the Russian frontier, Croatia, Poland and other sections, respecting the activity of the steamship companies in soliciting traffic from those countries. He has discovered that peasants and peddlers are employed in the interest of certain transatlantic lines, and that they have roving commissions for distributing circulars, obtaining laborers on railway contracts, and recruiting immigrants among the most ignorant and destitute classes of the Continent. These operations are conducted with secrecy, since foreign governments are anxious to prevent the shipment of emigrants on a large scale and the depopulation of their own territories; but the agents of steamship lines have succeeded in working up an immense traffic by paying school teachers, village notaries, priests, postmasters, peasants and peddlers for their services in promoting immigration to the United States. Not only are paupers, degraded and ignorant peasants and the most undesirable classes in Russia and Southeastern Europe shipped to the United States without supervision or restraint, but contracts for the delivery of laborers are carried out in defiance of law. The interests of the country are not considered by the sub-agents of he steamship companies, and the precautions taken by the Bureau of Immigration under existing laws are utterly inadequate. More stringent laws are needed.

It is a singular fact that he Immigration law enacted in March, while ostensibly a reform measure, has deprived United States consular officials of all powers of supervision. Before it was passed the steamship companies were required to scrutinize the lists of immigrants and to sign every sheet before the ship left port. The consuls received a fee of $1 for every sheet presented to them, and they were empowered to object to the shipment of undesirable immigrants. The companies were required to supply information respecting the districts from which he immigrants had come and their ability to support themselves after landing in New-York or Boston. If the districts were pestilential or epidemics were known to be prevailing there, the immigrants haling from them were excluded. The consuls could also prohibit the shipment of paupers and super annuated immigrants, and enforce the law against contract labor. The steamship agents were under obligation to satisfy the United States consuls at the shipping ports that the immigrants were unobjectionable, and their arrangements for filling the steerage quarters were subject to systematic supervision. Since the enactment of the new law, the consuls have been deprived of these official functions. As an act of courtesy the lists may still be submitted to the consular authorities for approval; but it is an open secret that they cannot now enforce their objections to the shipment of steerage passengers. The lists were formerly completed with painstaking care before the sailing of the ship. Partial lists are now offered to the consuls, and the rolls are filled out during the voyage for presentation to the immigration officials in the United States.

One of the objects accomplished by the new law is an increase in the head money paid by the steamship companies for every passenger landed. The Immigration Bureau in this way is rendered self-sustaining, especially when the traffic from Europe is as large as it is now. The consuls, on the other hand, have lost a considerable portion of their income, which had already been heavily reduced by the absorption of all fees except national as Treasury dues. At some of the ports for the shipment of immigrants these fees for checking off the lists of steerage passengers made up at least one-third of the income of the consulate. The American consular service is notoriously ill paid and neglected; and this is a fresh attempt to deprive it of a legitimate source of income and to leave it to shift for itself. The loss of the consular fees formerly paid by the steamship companies and charged against the immigrants on their passage bills releases the agents from effective supervision in European ports, such as Hamburg, Bremen, Rotterdam, Naples, Trieste, Marseilles, Havre, Hull, Liverpool, Southampton, Glasgow and Queenstown. The lists are no longer critically examined and the steamship companies are left at liberty to work up their immigration traffic by such expedients as Mr. Marcus Braun has described in his confidential reports to the United States Government. The immigrants cannot be landed in an American port until the bureau officials have looked them over and scrutinized the records; but a valuable safeguard against unrestricted immigration has been removed at the ports of embarkation. Mr. Braun's own reports from Russia and Southeastern Europe prove that the steamship companies, with their swarms of sub-agent working up business for them among the lowest and most degraded classes, need to be closely watched by the United States consuls at the main shipping ports.

The practice of the United States Government in this respect differs materially from that of the Dominion of Canada. A well-organized system for promoting immigration into Canada has been established in the United Kingdom and on the Continent. Experienced officials are in charge of the service, and immigrants are subjected to rigorous investigation before they are allowed to embark for their voyages across the Atlantic. No precautions are neglected, and the best classes of immigrants and settlers are sought out and aided. As the direct consequence of the well-ordered system adopted by the commissioners, there has been a marked improvement in the class of Europeans going out to Canada to find homes in the Northwest. Thrifty English and Welsh farmers, artisans and mechanics have been properly approached and induced to emigrate; and a similar class of Germans and Scandinavians has been recruited for citizenship in the Dominion. There have been no paupers among them. They have not come out of the slums and cesspools of Russia and Southeastern Europe. They are not recruited recklessly by sub-agents of steamship lines in the darkest and most degraded districts of the Continent.

The American Government is not making systematic efforts to improve the quality of immigration, nor is it imposing effective restraints upon the importation of European ignorance. The immigration laws have been revised mainly for economic reasons, and while the bureau has been rendered self-supporting, the services of the consular officials have been dispensed with, and the steamship companies have been left to work up the steerage traffic in their own way and to profit by the multiplication of sub-agents and the increased volume of business. The bureau officials inspect the steerage passengers thoroughly and send back some of the least promising among them at the expense of he companies; but no systematic arrangements are made in Europe for attracting the best and repelling the worst, and for ascertaining whether those who embark on the ocean liners belong to the desirable class of immigrants. It is doubtful whether violations of the contract law can be prevented under the new act, and certainly consular supervision is now impracticable, and steamship agents are less careful in the management of the steerage business than they were when American officials held them responsible for every name on the list, and were present to make a personal inspection of the immigrants on the ships. Mr. Braun himself reports finding a thousand destitute immigrants out of 2,500 who had engaged passage from a German port; and he does not conceal his suspicion that many were laborers who were shipped under contract in violation of law. Facts which he learned by keen observation an ordinary consul would have been competent to obtain in the same way. Congress, meanwhile, has abolished this safeguard of consular supervision over immigration at the ports of departure, and left the steamship companies free to fill their ships and to make the steerage traffic as remunerative as possible.

The work of the consuls was more scientific than the labors of the "peddler agents" roaming from village to village in Poland or Croatia and picking up petty commissions by recruiting future American citizens among the misgoverned and impoverished classes, and by coaching them for their final inspection in American waters. It was not expensive, since the steamship companies paid the fees, and it as effective because the consuls were on the ground and could not easily be imposed upon. Consular supervision was a check upon indiscriminate importation of European ignorance, degradation and pauperism; and it was a serious mistake to dispense with it by miscalculated legislation. Not only should this safeguard be restored and the powers of he consuls enlarged, but additional restrictions upon immigration should be imposed by more stringent laws. The cheeriest optimist is disconcerted when he passes through the steerage quarters of a westward bound transatlantic steamship and reflects upon the future of the Great Republic under universal suffrage. The risks undertaken in the career of colonial expansion in the Philippines are trivial in comparison with the dangers of unrestricted importation of the lowest dregs of European population.      I. N. F.

[Ed. note: Soon to come is a Letter to the Editor regarding the article featured on the previous exhibition page of July 24 entitled "Pauper Jews are coming."]




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