The Deportation of the I. W. W. - 1919

Political Cartoon, "Now for a Round-up" by William Allen Rogers, Artist.Political Cartoon, "Now for a Round-up" by William Allen Rogers, Artist, 1918. Drawing shows Uncle Sam rounding-up men labeled "Spy," "Traitor," "IWW," "Germ[an] money," and "Sinn Fein" with the United States Capitol in the background displaying a flag that states "Sedition law passed" referring to the Sedition Act of 1918. Library of Congress # 2010717793. GGA Image ID # 15447f84ef

By Charles Recht, General Counsel of the New York Bureau of Legal Advice.

On 5 November 1916, there occurred in the City of Everett, State of Washington, an incident which was known as the "Bloody Sunday" of the "Free Speech Fight." It forms the keynote to the treatment of the I. W. W. (Industrial Workers of the World) members and shows the underlying reasons for their deportation.

Six men on the excursion steamer "Verona" were killed by a sheriff and his officers, more were drowned, and dozens were wounded. During the subsequent trial, it developed that some of the deputy sheriffs had been well supplied with liquor. As a result, they became infuriated and began shooting wildly.

Jefferson Beard, one of the deputy sheriffs, was shot and killed. The murder of this man (although it is charged by the I. W. W., he was killed by one of the other deputy sheriffs) resulted in an indictment against seventy-four members of the union.

The trial before Judge Ronald began 5 March 1917 and ended on 5 May 1917. It resulted in a complete victory for the workers, as all the I. W. W.'s were acquitted. This incident must be borne in mind to realize the strength of the prejudice which was created and still prevails in the Northwest.

Strikes were taking place daily—when Congress placed a new and effective weapon in the hands of the employers—a law making the deportation of labor leaders possible.

Patriotism was used to cover up profiteering. The law passed in February 1917, provides that all-time limit shall be removed, and the number of years an alien shall have toiled here shall not count in his favor if he dares to voice his disapproval of our economic and social conditions.

In a country where sixty percent of the commonwealth is owned by five percent, of the people, there are likely to be people sharply disagreeing with the system.

While the law provides for deportation of those who "believe in anarchy" or in the "unlawful destruction of property," it fails to define what constitutes "anarchy." This omission is the net to catch strikers and labor "agitators." The law of October 6, 1918, is even more stringent

The industrial unrest grew greater after the "Verona" incident—it became acute in the general strike in Seattle in 1919—and the deportation of some of the men seems to be an ineffective preventive. Industrial unrest still exists in Seattle and elsewhere.

Toward the end of 1917, the lumber branch of the Industrial Workers of the World called a general convention in the City of Seattle. As some of the delegates arrived, they were seized by the local police, the Seattle Minutemen, and the sheriff and turned over to the Immigration authorities for deportation.

There was no charge against these men except that of membership in the Industrial Workers of the World, and the general sentiment of the Northwest was that the new Immigration Law was passed expressly to enable the authorities to break up that powerful labor organization.

Among the men arrested was one John Berg, an old man who had been in the Everett "Free Speech Fight," and the injuries he had sustained there at the hands of a deputy made of him a cripple for life.

The treatment of the men held by the Immigration Commissioner did not even acquire the semblance of legality, which was prevalent in police hearings in Russia under the Czar. Every method of coercion, misrepresentation, misquotation, and denial of justice was used against the prisoners. There are abundant proofs of this.

For instance, to show the co-operation, to say the least, of the local Immigration authorities with the lumber mills, the following letter taken from the Department records may be quoted:

"No. 35012|380 January 29, 1918.

Commissioner of Immigration,

Seattle, Wash.

Dear Sir:

I have to report that yesterday Deputy U. S. Marshal Wainwright while at Mt. Vernon, Wash., learned that a strike had been called in one of the lumber companies by a number of the I. W. W. members and that some of the said members had been taken into custody by the sheriff of Skagit County, Mr. Wainwright telephoned U. S. Attorney Allen who in turn called me, requesting that this service start a deportation action against the alien ring leaders of the strike.

At the same time, the sheriff of Mt. Vernon telephoned regarding BEN HAGMARK, who he stated was an alien and an I. W. W. agitator. I accordingly requested Deputy Marshal Wainwright to bring the man to this city for investigation. Upon the man's arrival, he admitted his connection with the organization and his belief therein. Papers and documents found in his possession indicate that he was an organizer of the order.

We therefore respectfully recommend that a telegraphic warrant for the arrest of this man be obtained on the ground that he has been found advocating and teaching the unlawful destruction of property after his entry to the United States. He was a person likely to become a public charge."

(Signed) Thomas M. Fisher.

TMF/AM Immigrant Inspector."

Sometimes the arrests were made by some of the so-called "Minutemen." It is not taxing the imagination to surmise that these "Minutemen" generally consist of people vitally interested in and identified with the commercial interests.

But if any proof were needed, the following photograph clearly shows the co-operation of the "Minutemen," the Department of Justice, and the Chamber of Commerce.

The arrested men, kept in detention stations in Seattle, for fourteen and fifteen months, were finally herded into a train and brought to Ellis Island, New York. This train, heavily guarded, arrived in New York on February 10, 1919, its passage through the country being heralded in newspaper headlines as the flight of the "Red Special." All kinds of fictitious stories of the terrible terrorists" and the "dangerous I. W. W." were circulated through the daily press.

When the "Special" unloaded its human cargo, the men were conveyed to Ellis Island. No one was permitted to see the prospective deportees. Miss Caroline A. Lowe, an attorney of Chicago, who is regularly employed by the I. W. W. organization, asked for admission. It was denied.

Woman Attorney for Banished "Reds," at Ellis Island.

Woman Attorney for Banished "Reds," at Ellis Island. Caroline Lowe, Attorney for Industiral Workers of the World (I.W.W.), Who was Rushed to New York from Chicago in an Endeavor to Stop Deportation of Foreign Mal-Contents. Government Officials Refused to Permit Her to Interview Prisoners on Ellis Island, Awaiting Deportation. © Underwood & Underwood 15 February 1919 War Department. National Archives & Records Administration 165-WW-429P-1228. NARA # 45532730. GGA Image ID # 14e1b533a5

Finally, a writ of habeas corpus was sued out. It was argued at length before Judge John C. Knox sitting in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. The testimony elicited at the hearing is instructive.

It developed that a written authorization signed by the I.W. W. men was in possession of Mr. Byron H. Uhl, Deputy Commissioner of Immigration at Ellis Island, authorizing one of the counsels to proceed with the case. Despite that, the writ was dismissed for the technical reason that the attorneys could show no authorization to represent the men.

Incidentally, discrimination against the I. W. W. by the decisions of the courts was brought out in the testimony of Miss Lowe, who, as the petitioner for the writ, took the witness stand.

The testimony as relating to a defective search warrant issued against the Chicago headquarters of the I. W. W. by the Department of Justice on September 5, 1917, when all of the leading I. W. W. offices in the land were raided.

The attorneys for the I. W. W. organization made a motion in the court to cancel this warrant and secure the return of the papers seized. Similar proceedings had previously been taken in a somewhat different case, in one of Veeder, the attorney for the Armour-Swift-Cudahy Corporations, the Chicago packers.

In both cases, the return of the papers was essential to the respective defendants as the legality of the indictments depended on the legality of the seizure of the documents. The difference, in results, however, appear in this sworn testimony.

"Re-cross - examination by Mr. Recht (on page 61 of the Record). Question: Just one question, the Veeder case, Miss Lowe, was a case involving the Chicago packers, was it not? Answer: Yes.

Q. In that case, the papers were ordered returned 2
A. As I recall, it must have been.

Q. This case was a case of the I. W. W. 2
A. Yes.

Q. And the warrant was even weaker?
A. Yes.

Q. And in this case, the I. W. W., the papers were not returned?
A. Not returned and not returned today.

Q. That is all. Step off."

After the dismissal of the writ, which, nevertheless, was dismissed without prejudice to a new application, and through the efforts of the attorneys, permission was given to examine the records which were on file in Washington.

Although the testimony was incorrectly transcribed, having been taken by prejudiced stenographers, the inspector often acting as his own stenographer, besides acting as judge and prosecuting attorney—despite that fact, the testimony disclosed such erroneous conclusions that after a delay of three weeks, fourteen of the I. W. W. men were unconditionally released from the island by the department.

The story of the suffering of each of these men would go beyond the bounds of this article. They had been incarcerated for fourteen months in the detention stations, some of them under conditions that impaired their health.

Nineteen of the thirty-eight sent initially to Ellis Island still remain there. Five men, sick and discouraged, submitted to deportation a few days after arriving at the island: although it is five weeks since they sailed, no word has been received from them by any of their friends.

They are as fine a set of men as could be found among the pioneer workers of the Northern forests. Almost half of them came from England, Scotland, and Ireland. They are not newcomers to America. Some have been here for more than thirty years.

One just released, through the attorneys' efforts, is over sixty years of age. So far as he knows, he may have been born in the United States. This is the only country he has ever known—he has no knowledge of his parents, and the chief reason for his attempted deportation to Scotland seems to be that his name is E. McGregor Ross. He also had been in jail for fourteen months.

Another McDonald, though only a laborer, writes English, which would put many college graduates to shame. When he saw the Statue of Liberty, he was moved to poetry and wrote the following:


Far across the foam-flecked ocean
Came the hordes from Europe's shore

To enjoy the freedom tendered
To the ones oppressed so sore

By a gold-crowned king or regent
Or a noble or a knight,

We were with those hordes from Europe
From oppression, we took flight.


With a song of joy for freedom
Some of us first saw this land,

We could feel our serfs' chains slipping
From our minds, our tongues, our hands.

We could see Bartholdi's statue—
How the light shone on the sea,

Lighting up the path of freedom
In this land of liberty.


Now we've helped to fell the forest
And we've dug deep in the mines;

We have built the towering buildings
We have laid the railway lines.

And because we asked to share them—
All the profits of our toil—

We must leave this land of freedom
And to others leave the spoil.


In the shadow of the statue
That Bartholdi's hand designed

We are waiting for the mandate
That will make us leave behind

All the friends and kin and loved ones
We have here on this fair shore.

We are waiting to be exiled
From this land forevermore."


The charge is being made by the attorneys for these deportees that behind these deportations—behind the enactment of the laws, were powerful influences and the desire of the lumber corporations to rid themselves of that element in labor which effects protection through organizations and unions. This is stoutly denied by the authorities.

While it is quite difficult to obtain clear connecting evidence such as would satisfy requirements of a court of justice, the photograph of a letter sent out to the different lumber corporations in the West, is a sufficiently identifying clue to anyone.

The social aspect of the question is, of course, a much larger one. The Immigration Law as it exists today, places in the hands of the Department of Labor, such tremendous power that to prevent abuses, its enforcement would have to be entrusted to angels.

Needless to say, the Immigration Inspectors are not saints. It is true that the Commissioner-General of Immigration at Washington, D.C., Mr. A. Carminati, and the Counsellor, Mr. Parker, are kind-hearted and upright men. However, ours is still a government of laws and not of men.

The extension of the powers of the Immigration Bureau is typical of the growth of the Executive Department of the Government, which has progressively been and is now encroaching upon the Judiciary and Legislative Department.

The powers given to the Labor Department have been bitterly condemned by Edgar Lee Masters, lawyer-poet, who in 1904 argued the Turner Case in the United States Supreme Court.

Among the men still held and to be deported is a native American. The reason he is being expelled is that under the Immigration Law, the Immigrant Inspector has the power conclusively to decide the question of birth, that is to say, the question as to whether a man is an alien and from what country he comes.

The Immigrant Inspector has the power to determine whether a man is an anarchist or not. He also has the right to define what, in his opinion, constitutes anarchy. No appeal lies from this so-called finding of fact.

The length of residence in this country no longer protects a man from deportation. His citizenship by naturalization, no matter how many years he has been a naturalized citizen, no longer protects him because such naturalization can be revoked.

In a sense, the question of the deportation of aliens is connected with the earliest traditions of this Republic. Immediately after Washington's administration, the Federalist Party enacted a similar measure, which was known as the Alien and Sedition Law.

This Alien and Sedition Law and its attempted enforcement was the doom of the Federalist Party. The Alien and Sedition Laws were wiped off the statute books by Jefferson, and the Federalist Party was wiped out of existence. Will Fate give us another Thomas Jefferson?

Charles Recht, "The Deportation of the I. W. W.," in Pearson's Magazine, New York: Pearson's Magazine, Inc., Vol. 40, No. 7, May 1919, pp.295 -298.

Return to Top of Page