Immigrant Safety And The Barge Office At Ellis Island

Immigrants at Ellis Island

Immigrants Arriving at the Government Barge Office. Many of These Aliens Must Remain in the District Several Days. It is During This Time That They Are in Need of Guidance and Protection.

The Battery must always remain the gateway to New York. As each year sees the arrival of an increasing number of immigrants, the problem of temporarily caring for them at their first stopping place becomes more and more complex.

Nearly a quarter of a million newly arrived immigrants intending to make New York their fixture home land at the Barge Office from the Government Station at Ellis Island each year.

Whether arriving in or leaving the country, it is usually necessary to stop here, often for a day or more. While making arrangements for transportation, or while locating friends in the city, if his home is to be in New York, the new arrival is in 'great need of advice and assistance. Alone and in a strange land, ignorant of the language, he is indeed helpless.

Realizing his condition at this time, a number of unscrupulous individuals, recruited from the ranks of ex-convicts, pickpockets and the like, have found the vicinity of the Barge Office a most profitable field in which to pursue their unlawful practices, and have come to regard the newly arrived immigrant as their legitimate prey. There is even reason to believe that the exploitation of the immigrant is an organized business.

The newly arrived immigrant must have at least *50.00 in his -possession; his exploiters are thus assured that their labors will .not be in vain. Runners acting as guides escort immigrants at exorbitant rates to hotel or railroad station, at times threatening and even assaulting them if they refuse to pay the amount demanded.

A ease recently came before the Bureau of Industries and Immigration, in which a runner who had escorted an immigrant during. the 'day, returned 'at night, saying that there had been a mistake about the papers, and that it would 'be necessary for him to return to Ellis Island at once. When the two reached the railroad station, the immigrant was assaulted and robbed.

In 1904, a special policeman was detailed at the Battery Landing, who, in addition to driving away many runners, made twenty-three arrests in the first two years. This police protection was withdrawn in '1906, and all efforts have not succeeded: in securing its reestablishment.

The special policeman who had been detailed for this service stated in his testimony before the Commissioner of Immigration that the condition at the Battery during the time of normal immigration required the attention of Tour officers for the full protection of aliens. At the present time there are but two officers in Battery Park, and but one assigned to the immediate vicinity of the Barge Office, who also covers the Custom House and Governor's Island Landing.

The outgoing-emigrant fares little better in spite of his knowledge of the language. The following is an extract from the Third Annual Report of the Bureau of Industries and Immigration (1913) :

"Owing to the Balkan War in the early part of the year, the exodus of Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbians and other Slavic races, was unusually large. Added to the normal returning immigrant tide for the Christmas holiday period, every steamer embarking at the port of New York was filled to capacity. Hundreds of outward bound steerage passengers were left behind at almost every sailing, owing to the over-issue of "Transportation Orders" by steamship ticket agents throughout the country. The struggle at the docks to have tickets "stamped" preparatory to boarding the steamer created an opportunity for petty grafting not lost sight of by the hordes of "hangers on" who infest the docks."

The passenger who is left over is compelled to accept one of three propositions which the company offers him:

  1. to sail on a steamer of another line the same day, and if the rate is cheaper, receive a refund;
  2. to exchange his ticket for a steamer of the same line sailing at a later date, and have his board and lodging expense for the number of days during which he must remain in New York City paid for by the company at the rate. or 75 cents or $1 per day; and
  3. to cancel his ticket and have the full purchase price refunded to him: The first proposition is most advantageous to the passenger, as he may thus sail immediately and receive a refund where there is a difference between the rates.

The second method must of necessity be employed to a considerable extent, as all left-over passengers cannot be transferred to other steamers sailing the same day. Under the present system, the. steamship company exchanges each passenger's ticket in due course but pays the board and lodging expense direct to the immigrant lodging-place keeper who has taken him from the dock.

In many instances brought to the Bureau's attention, the passenger does not know that the company has agreed to pay for his board and lodging and does not protest when the unscrupulous lodging-place keeper, at the end of his stay, demands payment in full for the number of days he has remained at the place at the rate of $1 or $1.50 per day. If he does protest, his baggage is withheld.

It is too late for him to argue it out now. He pays, as he is afraid he will again miss his steamer. The third method, where the passenger cancels his ticket and obtains his full refund, is the most pernicious of all. The company's responsibility is at an end and the emigrant is soon taken in tow by an irresponsible countryman who camps on his trail. Before he knows it,, his money is gone and he is stranded in a strange city.

Runners and steamship ticket agents, of course, favor this method as they are thus enabled to induce the passenger to purchased from them a steamship ticket for another line, possibly at a reduced rate, but on a steamer of an inferior type, on which the passenger does not in reality desire to sail.

The steamship companies are clearly responsible for this condition. If they cannot regulate the "over-sale" of tickets, they can at least provide protection for the ignorant and helpless beings who Have entered in good faith into written contracts with them. Some of the companies have already taken steps in this direction, but until this becomes more general, the condition will persist.

An Extract from a Social Survey of the Washington Street District of New York City, Instituted and Conducted by Trinity Church Men's Committee, October, 1914

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