Regulation of Immigration at Its Source - 1908

The United States has a silent keeper of the gate "that stands on guard at the sources of immigration. It is the right arm of the American custodian of the keys. Like the “keeper” who opens and closes the door at Ellis Island, it is a humane warder.

It is known, for instance, that last year it saved more than 65,000 persons the humiliation, the expense of time and money, and the discomfort involved in the closing upon them of the door on the American shore.

And one may not estimate the number who, because of this silent-tongued watcher that “neither slumbers nor sleeps," have never left their “sheltered cots” to meet with the disappointment that surely would have been theirs.

What is this keeper?

It is one hundred and fourteen words in the immigration laws, which, reduced to ordinary English by the process of elimination, declare that “if it shall appear. . . that any alien so brought to the United States was afflicted with any of the said diseases or disabilities (idiocy, imbecility, epilepsy, tuberculosis, or a ' loathsome or dangerous contagious disease ') at the time of embarkation, and that the existence of such . . . might have been detected by means of a competent medical examination at such time. . . such transportation line, etc., shall pay . . . the sum of one hundred dollars for each and every violation."

And by its side in the role of assistant warder stands that other group of words which provides that every rejected immigrant shall be returned at the expense of the steamship company which brought him.

One does not need to cross the Atlantic in order to obtain ocular evidence of the activity of this long-armed keeper. It is only necessary to stand in the gallery of the painfully barren, albeit wholesomely sanitary, judgment hall at Ellis Island.

The stream of men, women, and children, encumbered with many burdens, toils up the stairway and, like a dark thread of water feeling its way across a dry floor, moves slowly and uncertainly along.

It approaches the physician of the United States Marine Hospital service waiting at an angle of the iron-railed passageway in spruce, square-cut, and much-braided blue uniform.

Off goes one hat after another. Faces are turned up expectantly. There seems to be no astonishment on the part of the immigrant when the uniformed official deftly turns back his eyelids. This has happened so many times before that he has become accustomed to it and recognizes it as a part of the process of getting into America.

The machinery of transferring an immigrant from his native heath to the United States has been shaped by this vigilant watchman whose direct authority extends only three miles from our shore, but whose selective finger is all-powerful unto the uttermost parts of the earth.

The “rough-hewing” by which it accomplishes its ends is illustrated by the experience of one Steamship Company which undertook to enter the profitable emigrant trade. Not realizing the importance of booking only those who were certain to be passed at Ellis Island, perhaps because of a lack of familiarity with the American law and the business, it accepted for passage any one whom its agents, hungry for commissions, for warded to it.

What Happens to Deported Immigrants?

On a day in May, 1906, one of its vessels steamed into the beautiful harbor of the home port in Southern Europe. When the gangway had been placed, three hundred and eighty peasants of a dozen Central and Southern European races descended, carrying their baggage. They were the rejected of the shipload that had sailed out of the harbor two months before with high hopes of a prosperous future in what was to them the El Dorado of the world.

The time consumed by the return voyage was ample for their reflections upon their fate to ripen into plans for obtaining redress. Headed by threescore and ten of the stalwart and high-spirited Montenegrins, sometimes styled the “Orphans of Europe," the battalion of the nations straggled through the streets of the city to the offices of the company.

They demanded the refund of their passage money and compensation for the two months of time consumed in the voyage to America and back. Their claims were not allowed. The reply was not received with graciousness on the part of the much traveled claimants. Their belief in the justice of their demands had become too fixed by frequent exchange of opinions in the course of the voyage for them to accept calmly the decision.

The attitude of the mongrel company on this point quickly manifested itself in the faces of the leaders. Perhaps in that fleeting moment the clerks remembered that these leaders were representatives of a nation which, for all the smallness of its numbers, had snapped its fingers at Napoleon, and the “Little Corporal " had preferred to have Montenegro an ally rather than an enemy.

Even if they did not know this, or had never read Tennyson's lines upon the "mighty mountaineers,'' " arm'd by day and night," "... warriors beating back the swarm of Turkish Islam for five hundred years," they saw enough to make them slam and lock the office doors in the faces of the horde of primitives.

Then the spirit of the “Afghans” broke loose, and the frightened officials telephoned for the police, in the hope that they would arrive in time to save the doors as well as the physical well-being of the office staff.

Only by the aid of manacles were the sons of “Great Tsernagoro" incarcerated in the dungeon keep of the city to await such a time as they might be started on their way to their native Black Mountain.

It was this experience and another one which concerned two hundred and sixty emigrants rejected at New York, at a loss to the steamship company reported to be $15,000, that revealed to this company the power of the silent keeper.

No longer are those who are likely to be deported accepted for passage to the United States.

The Two Primary Streams of Immigrants

The immigrants enter America in two great streams. One has its rise among the historic hills of Palestine and receives tributaries from the ports of Greece, the Adriatic, Italy, and the Azores. Its course lies over the blue waters of the Mediterranean and between the Pillars of Hercules.

The other stream trickles across Russia to the shores of the Baltic and the German border. In ancient Poland and on the wooded slopes of the Carpathian Mountains the chief tributaries have their source.

These are made up of Slavic men who have toiled long on the land without making headway; of kerchiefed maids and matrons of the same race who have roughened their fingers, their faces, and their voices in the fields and go in search of husbands or to join them, and well-nigh destitute Jews attempting to escape their poverty and political persecution at the same time.

Across Germany, in well-worn converging courses, these rivers of humanity take their way to the ports of the North Sea — Hamburg, Bremen, Rotterdam, and Antwerp. As the broad stream sets out over the waters of the North Atlantic it is joined by the Scandinavians, English, Welsh, Scotch, and Irish.

The emigrants from the Slavic countries who join this stream have an experience unlike that of those who travel by the Mediterranean route. They learn their fate before they reach the coast.

Germany is particular in regard to the migration sweeping across the Empire, especially that coming from Russia. At many points on the eastern border where railways enter, "control stations" have been established.

Such, by way of illustration, may be found at Eydtkuhnen and Thorn on the Russian border of Prussia, and at Myslovitz, the meeting place of the three empires.

The German Control Station

At the control stations all third and fourth class passengers are obliged to stop and declare their purpose in entering the country. If they are emigrants, they receive a physical examination and are sent in special cars directly to the ports from which they intend to sail.

Except at the control station at Ruhleben, near Berlin, they are not permitted to leave the train while in transit. The machinery at Myslovitz, through which one hundred thousand emigrants pass in the course of a year, is typical.

For the average traveler the chief interest of this German city, with a name of un-German sound and a population about that of New Rochelle, New York, is its geographical position.

Fronting on the boundaries of Russia, it stands at the entering in of the trunk line from Bucharest and Odessa. A river—according to the European definition — having the width of a creek and looking like a canal, serves to inform the armed frontier guards of the different countries which is home soil and which foreign territory.

An American, unaccustomed to sharply enforced boundary lines, is treated to a curious sensation when he stands at the union of the two “rivers” which define the Russian wedge between Germany and Austria, and realizes that to attempt to swim either stream, across which he could easily throw a stone, might endanger his life.

The reputation that the guns of the Russian guards have for going off at the least provocation makes one conclude that a lunch on the piazza of the inn in the park overlooking the two easterly empires is likely to be more enjoyable than an attempt to imitate Lord Byron on a small scale by breasting the wavelets of either of these tributaries of the Vistula.

Not a few emigrants, however, unable to obtain passports, venture to leave Russia in this way. In the course of one visit to the third-class quarters of the steamer on which I returned to America last August, I came upon a young Russian lying on his bunk with his coat off.

He was not the type of man an American would think of as Russian. Indeed, everything about him from the neat sack suit and silver watch chain to the strong face reminded one of a well-balanced young American who had saved one or two thousand dollars by moderate living and application to his trade.

We fell into conversation, for it developed that he had been studying English for three years and practicing it among the English-speaking sailors who frequented the Black Sea port where he lived. The son of parents comparatively well-to-do, he had had a high school education.

“I am a machinist," said he. “Russia is not good for a person to learn anything. I thought to come to America to learn more about my trade. I came to Granitza and tried to get a passport to leave, but the officer said I could not have a passport. ‘We want young men like you to stay in the country,' he said.

I was told I could not leave the country that I might be shot if I did. The second night, with forty others, I started to leave. We scattered, going in different directions. I swam the river toward Myslovitz. I do not know whether the others escaped or not."

The Process of Inspecting the Emigrants from Europe

The detention of the emigrants at Myslovitz is for only a few hours. As they leave the trains they are escorted to a neighboring enclosure by a gendarme.

Entering a plain brick building, they pass in single file along a passage which conducts them before a representative of the steamship companies and a gendarme.

To the clerk the emigrants give up their money and such documents pertaining to the journey as they possess, and their names are taken. Their papers, a railway ticket to the port of embarkation, and the balance of their money, after the fare has been deducted, are returned to them later. In an adjoining room the silent keeper performs its duty, all of the emigrants being examined there by a physician.

Late in the afternoon a train of coaches of the third class, having wooden seats and no facilities for sleeping, is drawn up on the switch beside the station. The cars are labeled with signs indicating their destination.

One, perhaps, is for the Polish women who are going to Hamburg. The following is for men of the same race, and is also labeled " Hamburg." The third car, according to the sign, is destined for Bremen, and will be occupied by Jews.

One by one the emigrants file out through the doorway of the station, past an official who examines all tickets. The women, many of them with flocks of children trudging alongside and arms and hands occupied by angular hand-baggage, laboriously climb aboard, and stow away their children on the hard seats and their boxes on the racks overhead.

The men have less difficulty in settling themselves. Their bags are quickly disposed of, seats selected, and cigarettes lighted. As the light of the setting sun glistens along the rails before them, a promising omen for the future in the land in the West, the tiny, whistle on the locomotive is sounded, and the second stage of the journey toward America is begun.

They will be weary before they reach the sea, however, for although the distance between Myslowitz and Hamburg is no greater than that between New York and Buffalo, they will be two days on the train.

Conditions Emigrants Travel Under

The conditions under which emigrants are obliged to travel have often been criticized. “Man’s inhumanity to man” has been an apt phrase in describing them. Although altruism does not rule in the business of transporting emigrants, and the conditions on some ships are bad, yet one is convinced, after studying the manner of handling them in Europe and on shipboard, that, generally speaking, there is a steady improvement.

While laws, public opinion, and feelings of humanity have played their part, there has been also, I believe, another element in obtaining this gain. Many emigrants are more discriminating than they are given credit for being by Americans.

Some of the steamship companies, I think, realize that it is worthwhile to make the emigrant comfortable in his transit from shore to shore. In the third class of the steamer on which I returned from Europe was a lantern-jawed Jew of thirty years, bound from Warsaw to Paterson, New Jersey.

He had friends in the “Silk City" who would get work for him at his trade of silk-weaving.

"Do you like the ship?" I asked.

"I think it is the best there is," he replied in English, which he was studying in his spare moments from a Yiddish-English book. “I like it very well. My friend in Paterson crossed from Bremen. He did not like that line, and told me to come on this steamer."

This improvement is especially pronounced in the accommodations provided at the port of embarkation. It is quite essential that there shall be provision made for the shelter and feeding of the emigrants until the steamer sails.

Emigrants Awaiting Transportation to the New World

Many cannot time their arrival at the port to coincide exactly with the departure of the steamer. At the majority of ports the travelers are cared for in private boarding-houses. At the others the steamship companies furnish the accommodations themselves.

In Italy the boarding-houses prevail. These are under the paternal eye of the national government, and are inspected from time to time. Under the law there must be a given amount of air space for each person, and the amount and quality of food which shall be served are duly specified.

At Trieste and Hamburg the steamship companies maintain quarters for those awaiting the departure of their vessels. At Fiume a large building of
the most improved kind has just been erected by the Hungarian Government at a cost of $400,000 to take the place of the admittedly bad boarding-houses which have served heretofore.

The Auswanderer Hallen Immigrant Station

Probably the most perfect institution in the world for the care of emigrants is the "Auswanderer Hallen," erected within the last few years at the Veddel, a suburb of Hamburg, by the Hamburg America Line. It is the shell of a miniature city equipped to satisfy every desire, whether physical, aesthetic, or spiritual, of four thousand souls.

Its two score or more neat buildings, its green plants and flower-beds, occupy an enclosed area more than twice as large as Madison Square, New York City, or above fourteen acres, and cost approximately half a million dollars. One wonders how it was constructed for such a modest sum, for everything appears to be the best of its kind.

It is an illustration of the scientific method of supplying the needs of life. In this odd city, whose population changes on an average every three days, the inhabitants are lodged in large, light, well-ventilated dormitories, equipped with neat galvanized bedsteads, and fed in common dining-rooms with food cooked in large kitchens in a most scientific and cleanly style.

It has its Jewish as well as its Christian quarter, and provision is made for supplying kosher food to the Jews. The different races as well as the two sexes and those of different ages are housed separately.

A water system; a sewerage system in which the sewage is disinfected in the most approved manner before it is disposed of; an electric light system; a large bath-house provided with showers and tubs placed in individual compartments lined with white tile; and a disinfecting plant to which has been added a device for protecting baggage against damage from live steam, are features of this complete community shelter.

If one of the inhabitants ill, there is a hospital with a resident physician and a nurse attached to care for him. If the disease is a contagious one, there are special hospitals provided with modern equipment for his isolation and care.

There are post and telegraph offices; a money exchange; a canteen; two hotels for the accommodation of those who wish to live in a more secluded manner and are willing to pay a mark, or twenty-four cents, a day, extra for it; and two clothing stores, one for the sale of men's clothing, the other for women's attire, indicated by pictorial signs which any one can interpret regardless of literacy or language.

The process of Americanization is hastened by daily concerts given by a band of twenty-four instruments. The ears of the transient inhabitants are regaled with music while awaiting the sailing of the steamer and the parting from the home shore is speeded with American airs.

To add literally to the gayety of the nations, a dance is held on the evening before the vessel is to depart. This curious city also has an art gallery, if one may so speak of the collection of sixteen mural pictures which occupy the spaces between the windows on the exterior walls of the two hotels.

The paintings have this in common with not a few masterpieces —the name of the artist is lost in oblivion. When one in quires who painted this series of pictures of Russian and European scenery, and the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, one is told that the name of the painter has been forgotten.

Four years ago, they say, a Russian emigrant, evidently far above the average, came to the Auswanderer Hallen. Having little money, he could not go forward to America, but was obliged to wait for a remittance which he expected. Three months passed before it came. He occupied his time painting the pictures.

As I have said, the spiritual life is not forgotten. In a prominent spot, surrounded by grass-plots and trees, is a combination church. Beneath its roof are two auditoriums, one dedicated to the use of Roman Catholics and the other set apart for Protestants.

The Catholic church is equipped with all the paraphernalia required by the ritual, and masses are said four times a week. In the Jewish section is a synagogue.

Each “citizen" pays about forty cents a day for the benefits of the Auswanderer Hallen. The institution is valuable to the steamship company also. It serves to keep the emigrant in a contented frame of mind and good physical condition, which is desirable, for there is always the silent keeper with which to reckon.

When I visited the Auswanderer Hallen last summer, there was only one perceptible flaw. It had no close connection with the remainder of the world. The emigrants were obliged to toil up an incline from some point not visible, like Christian, with their burdens on their backs.

Fortunately, also like Christian, once within the gate they could lay down the burdens—to be troubled with them no more until they climbed the stairs at Ellis Island.

No sooner does the emigrant reach the Auswanderer Hallen than he finds himself for a second time face to face with the silent keeper. The gates close upon him and he is within the “unclean " part of the little city. Before he can enter into the “clean” portion, where he will be obliged to remain until the day of embarkation, he must once more be examined by a physician.

Before this takes place, however, he is registered and his papers are inspected. Here is a man from the Bukovina wearing wrinkled homespun. From beneath the sheepskin-lined overcoat, which fails by many inches to cover the long-skirted undercoat, he drags a flat, rectangular bag whose front is embroidered with a geometrical design in all the colors of the rainbow.

From its depths he pulls his steamship ticket and money. Behind him is a man who reminds one of Markham's “Man with the Hoe." The trustful, childlike expression in his eyes, the worn and seamed face, the whole attitude of dependence, mark him as physically a man who has toiled hard and long upon the soil, but mentally as a child who will never mature. He is a Ruthenian, and typical of his fellow-peasants.

They are among the most illiterate of American immigrants. He takes off his hat, and, approaching an official in uniform, inquiries about his ticket. In response to a question he tells of two married daughters in Manitoba with whom he will spend the remainder of his days and “work no more.'' Having received the desired in formation, he bends over and kisses the back of the interpreter's hand in gratitude.

The medical examination over, the emigrants are considered “clean" and are permitted to join those who already have passed the inspection.

Strange tongues greet the ears of the newcomers to this polyglot community. Perhaps for the childlike Ruthenian this is the first holiday since that day in the far past when, with wreaths of artificial flowers upon his hat, he went with a buxom maid, tricked out in gay dress and tinseled headgear, to the priest to be married.

Another, in the surcease from the unwonted excitement of travel, finds time to sit down and think of the wife and barefooted children who are, perhaps, even this moment leaving their straw-thatched hut on the slope of the Carpathians to toil on his slender acreage with hoe or sickle, and dreaming of the great things he is to do for them in the new land.

The throng lounging up and down the graveled streets is far more refreshing to the eye than an Easter parade on Fifth Avenue. No thick veil hides the heart here. One easily penetrates to the sources of the smiles on the faces of the kerchiefed maids standing in front of the unmarried women's pavilion.

And one has an opportunity to sympathize with the young Leftish women who are weeping because this is the twenty-first day since they arrived here and no money has yet come for them. Their faces are a striking contrast to that of the young Russian who was last seen in Myslovitz.

His money, for which he was waiting, has come, and he will sail on the next steamer, he says with a laugh. Over near the grass plot stands a group of Finlanders. Two or three of the women have the puffed eyelids and dull eyes of persons who have wept so long that the tears will not flow.

One of the number, a fine-looking man wearing a Russian cap, is addressing them. He is discussing their plight. This company has come from a single village. They were neighbors at home. Before they started they sold all that they possessed and gave their money to the steamship agent.

The agent provided them with tickets for Hamburg and told them that they would find steamship tickets awaiting them there. They reached Hamburg a week ago, but no money for tickets has been received from the agent. The steamship company has endeavored to get in communication with him.

They have just learned that he has probably absconded with the money which represents their all in life. The company will send them back home, where they can tell their story to the police of their own country. The strains of "The Star-Spangled Banner," which at that moment smite the air, are simply mockeries to this company of "desirable” emigrants.

The Italian Emigrant Station

Having seen the medical inspection which is made again just before the steamer sails, we turn our eyes toward Italy, the country in which the servitors of the silent keeper are American physicians in the employ of the United States Government instead of Europeans in the service of the steamship companies Italy is the only country in which the United States performs this service for the carriers.

The Italian Government being especially solicitous about the welfare of its emigrating citizens, it was easy to bring about co-operation. The physicians of the United States Marine Hospital Service, in order that they may have an artificial status, are attached to the consulates, nominally, as quarantine officers.

As the law places the responsibility for undesirable immigration upon the steamship companies, these physicians officially only advise as to whether an emigrant shall go forward or not. Of course their advice is invariably accepted, and those who are rejected by them do not start for the United States.

Giuseppe has decided to try his luck in America. His brother, who went a few months before, has written that he will send a ticket. As no Italian emigrant may leave his country without a passport to the country whither he would go, he applies to the village authorities for one.

In Italy all data pertaining to a citizen's relations and contacts with the body politic, such as the performance of military service, commission of crime, and the punishment, if any, which has been meted out, are deposited in the commune in which he was born.

The syndic, or mayor, of the community, having obtained all the information regarding Giuseppe to be had at his birthplace, if his record is satisfactory, sends the application, accompanied by a nullaosta, or "no objection," to the provincial authorities.

The nullaosta contains a description of the physical appearance of Giuseppe and the report of the officer in command of his military district as to whether there is any objection to his going from the country on the ground of military service.

Italy's intention is to give no passport to a man whose record would be objectionable to the country of his destination. The United States objects to immigrants with criminal records. Evidently the intention is evaded occasionally.

But Giuseppe is not a criminal, only a peasant, with a wife and a couple of children, endeavoring to maintain life on twenty cents a day. There is no objection to his going, and one morning, with a little money and the ticket sent over from America in his pocket, he goes to the railway station, accompanied by his wife and children. They are going to "see him off."

Dressed in his best clothes, he finds at the station, a half-dozen others also bound for America and wearing their "good clothes."

There are no tears at the parting. Why should there be sorrow? Is he not going where money is plentiful? Is it not rather an occasion for rejoicing than otherwise? The engineer toots the little whistle in response to the ringing of the station agent's "breakfast bell" and the blast from the conductor's brass post horn.

This European ceremonial having been enacted, the train ambles out of the station after the easy-going fashion of most Italian trains. In the course of twenty four hours Giuseppe reaches Naples. At the railway station a representative of the steamship line for whose steamer he has a ticket directs him to one of the numerous boarding houses.

The steamer is to sail the following day, so, according to the paternal Italian emigration law, his stay at the boarding-house is at the expense of the steamship company. As he looks in at the room he is to occupy he is not aware that the fact that it is clean and not overcrowded with beds is due to the supervision of the Government.

He sits down at the table in the dining-room, and the meal served to him is perhaps better than any he ever ate before. He does not know that the size and quality of the piece of meat, the other whole some dishes, and the decanter of wine are due to the fatherly Government, which has prescribed what he shall have to eat, and, moreover, that the food shall be prepared in a cleanly fashion.

It is the day of sailing. One of the brisk showers which suddenly present themselves and as suddenly withdraw in Naples in early June has just washed the streets of the city. The sun is shining hotly from the famous blue sky that vaults the equally famous blue waters of the Gulf of Naples.

All is bustle. The baggage has been inspected and disinfected. Giuseppe and his fellow-travelers at the boarding-house have been conducted to the dogana where he and they are to be examined and embarked.

The line slowly passes the United States Hospital physician. With some anxiety Giuseppe awaits the verdict. He has been told about the examination, so he removes his hat, lifts his face, and steels himself against the turning back of the eyelids in search of trachoma.

It is all over in an instant, and he is propelled forward to a table where his inspection card is duly stamped with the American consular seal. Then he is passed through a door into the presence of Italian officials, who ask for his passport.

They assure themselves by visual and oral examination that he is the person described in the pamphlet-like document, and he is once more passed on, his passport being retained temporarily for further inspection.

Once outside the building he finds himself beneath a wide curved metal roof extending well down to the edge of the wharf. The space, bounded by picket fences on either side, is alive with short, stocky, brown-faced men, energetic women wearing no hats, and mature looking children.

Sturdy Neapolitans drawing trucks laden with baggage force their way through the crowd. Over at one side by the fence he sees a young man with budding mustache and a neatly dressed woman with hair combed high bending over several pieces of hand -baggage. They are brother and sister.

The woman has been rejected by the medical officials. She has slipped through a hole in the fence just behind her, and they are rearranging their effects in accordance with the official's ruling.

The brother will go to America. The sister will return home. Guiseppe is thankful that he was not rejected, but does not see in the incident an illustration of the phrase, "The one shall be taken, the other left," for his knowledge of Holy Writ is limited. He sees himself entering into the joys of a new land flowing with milk and honey.

From time to time barges laden with passengers or baggage put off and go alongside the steamship lying moored a few rods away. He himself is soon climbing the steep gangway leading to the deck. There he finds, somewhat to his surprise, that he must again undergo the examination of the eyes.

Had he understood why the ship's doctor questioned the man next in advance, obliging him to wait the while, he would have understood the reason for another inspection.

He did not know that occasionally a man who is unfit physically has a robust acquaintance pass the examination for him, he slipping aboard from a small boat with the inspection card of his substitute in hand. It has been discovered that the man in front has trachoma. His inspection card has not been stamped.

When questioned, he only says that he did not know why the seal was not placed upon it. Nor did Giuseppe know that the two men watching him while he was "frisked" for his knife, which was thrown into a box on the deck with hundreds of others, were detectives watching for criminals.

He has passed all the cordons and is to have an opportunity to try the last gate at Ellis Island.

Sherwood, Herbert Francis, "The Silent Keeper of the Gate: A Study of the Regulation of Immigration at Its Source," in The Outlook, New York, Vol. 89, No. 6, Saturday, June 6, 1908, p 289-296

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