The Restriction of Immigration

In the April number of the Review, Mr. O. P. Austin answers in the negative the question, " Is the New Immigration Dangerous to the Country?" and arrives at his conclusions by an analysis of numerous statistics, of which he is a well-known and acknowledged master.

Mr. Austin says that it is hard "to apply the statistical measuring rod with an assurance of obtaining exact results in the way of conclusions." To this, the present writer cordially agrees, for he is convinced that the immigration problem is so vast and so complex that current statistics cannot give any satisfactory solution to it.

This problem, however difficult it may be for us to deal with here and now, is essentially a problem not of the present, as most writers assume, but of the future.

And because the problem is of the future rather than of to-day, present statistics of immigration, of the character of our immigrants, and of their relation to pauperism and crime, cannot furnish satisfactory answers to questions arising out of this problem.

Again, the assimilation of our immigrants cannot possibly be treated by employing statistics alone. Whether our recent immigrants are or are not becoming assimilated, satisfactorily can only be determined by those who have constant close personal relations with them.

Thus we are ready to take up the first of the conclusions reached by Mr. Austin, "that the present immigration, large as it is, is not beyond our power of assimilation, and probably of healthful assimilation."

The first comment which suggests itself in this connection concerns the numbers, not of last year's immigration, nor of this year's, but of the immigration of 1925, 1950, and of other years still farther off in the future.

It is entirely certain that emigration to this country will not decrease in the future, except during occasional periods of financial depression, but that it will and must increase unless the United States takes some steps towards further restriction.

No one who has watched the trend of passenger-steamship traffic between the United States and European ports within the past few years, and especially within the past year, can have failed to be impressed by the increase in the number of sailings in general, and especially by the marked increase in the number of sailings to and from Mediterranean ports.

Within a few months, the White Star Line has inaugurated a new service between Mediterranean ports and the United States; the Cunard Line has entered into competition for the steerage traffic from southern Europe, northern Africa, and Asia.

And it has closed a contract with the Austro-Hungarian Government by which the Cunard ships are guaranteed 30,000 emigrants from Austria-Hungary every year. [[i]]

A new line of steamers has been established between Odessa and New York; the Austro-American ships which formerly plied as cargo-boats between Trieste and Central America have been transferred to run as passenger-ships between Trieste and New York.

The number of Mediterranean sailings of the Hamburg-American, North German Lloyd and other companies, has been largely increased.

All this is evidence of tremendous growth in the steerage-passenger traffic from southern and eastern Europe and from Asia. The building of new railroads in Asia; the more accessible communication with the sea thus resulting.

The increase in the number of steam-ship agents all over eastern Europe, northern Africa, and Asia Minor—all this likewise means more immigrants, [[ii]]

Our fathers, who witnessed total immigration of 128,393 in the decade 1820-1830, would probably have thought it beyond the range of human possibility to have 1,000,000 people brought across the ocean in a year.

Yet, because of the rapid increase in the size of ocean steamships, some of which now accommodates over 2,000 immigrants at once, may we not with reasonable certainty expect annual immigration of 2,000,000 within ten or fifteen years?

Do any statistics as to numbers of foreign-born now here help us to solve the immigration problem of the future, which is going to be so immeasurably more difficult? Furthermore, the new immigration from Austria-Hungary, Italy, Russia, Poland, Greece, the Balkan Peninsula, Syria, etc., which has only just begun, will continue to increase with the increasing facility of transportation.

If we have an Italian slum problem, and a Jewish slum problem now, what shall we have when perhaps 3,000,000 Russian Jews have come to us, and when 5,000,000 Italians are living here? Not only so, but immigration from Asia has also only just begun.

Within a few years, it may increase until we have more Asiatic immigrants in a year than we now have Italians. Is this not reasonably certain, and was not the late General Francis A. Walker right when he said that the tide of immigration will flow on as long " as there is any difference in economic level between our own population and that of the most degraded communities abroad"?

This, it seems to the writer, is the view of the future which ought to be taken by everyone who thinks seriously about this massive problem of immigration. James Bryce was not far wrong when he spoke of the more and more thorough "drainage" of the inland regions of Europe which is illustrated for us in the new immigration.

And General Walker's apt phrase, " Pipe-Line Immigration," is as accurate as it is suggestive; for, although many thousands of immigrants still come here every year who may be ranked with the pioneers who came fifty years ago, when the journey was long, hard and expensive.

A considerable number now come because they are persuaded to go by some steamship agent; or because they find it easier to leave their home problems and take a fresh start, or indeed because their own communities make it easy for them to leave for the good of those communities.

It appears, then, that statistics of present immigration are of little help in a broad view of the immigration problem of the future.

As to the assimilation of our alien population, that, likewise, cannot be expressed statistically. In this matter, there has been no more authoritative expression of opinion, by a large body of competent judges, than is contained in a series of resolutions sent to the last Congress from most of the Boards of Associated Charities throughout the United States.

These resolutions, which embodied the views of voluntary and paid charity workers who every day are brought into close contact with the immigrant, and who, if anything, is extreme in his favor, held that

"it is impossible to make the conditions of the very poor substantially better when every arriving steamer brings more of the ignorant and unskilled to compete for the employments that are open only to the ignorant and unskilled".

And that "the difficulty of securing universal education is greatly increased when every year sees landed an army of one hundred thousand illiterates, whose children will start upon their career as American citizens from ignorant homes, under practically foreign surroundings."

It is significant to find in the last Annual Report of the Associated Charities of Boston the following:

"With immigration as unrestrained as at present, we can have little hope of permanent gain in the struggle for uplifting the poor of our cities, since newcomers are always at hand, ignorant of American standards."

Again, in the 27th Annual Report of the United Hebrew Charities of New York, after statistics concerning pauperism, is the following:

"With immigration as unrestrained as at present, we can have little hope of permanent gain in the struggle for uplifting the poor of our cities, since newcomers are always at hand, ignorant of American standards."

Again, in the 27th Annual Report of the United Hebrew Charities of New York, after statistics concerning pauperism, is the following:

"It is unnecessary to introduce . . . the causes that underlie these conditions. The horrible congestion in which so many of our coreligionists live, the poverty and filth, the lack of air and sunlight. . ..

Even more, pronounced is the results accruing from these conditions: the vice and crime, the irreligiousness, lack of self-restraint, indifference to social conventions, indulgence of the most degraded and perverted appetites, which are daily growing more pronounced and more offensive."

We are not adequately assimilating our foreign population when a judge in New York State rejects the naturalization papers of sixty persons, on the ground that "when a man has been in this country five years and is unable to speak our language, ... he is not fitted to be admitted to citizenship."

Or, when we find in the factories of the Empire State young men and women of seventeen to twenty who have lived here since they were four or five and who cannot yet understand or speak English.

It must, furthermore, always be remembered that even if all the "unabsorbed" immigrants are brought to the point of demanding the same standards of living as those of the older part of the population, there is, as the late Professor Richmond Mayo-Smith so clearly pointed out, an inexhaustible supply behind, which in its turn must also be raised up.

Thus, there are two sides to the question, Has the new immigration become assimilated? Whatever may have been our success in assimilating those who have come in the past, it must be remembered that our work thus far is small compared with what is before us.

No wonder that General Walker, who had an intimate acquaintance with this problem through his work as Superintendent of the United States census, wrote:

"That man must be a sentimentalist and an optimist beyond all bounds of reason who believes that we can take such a load upon the national stomach without a failure of assimilation, and without great danger to the life and health of the nation."

In connection with assimilation, Mr. Austin makes use of the argument that, "while the immigration is larger now than ever before, it is no larger in proportion to the population than on many former occasions."

The difficulty about this argument is that, whereas in the early days of the " new " immigration, twenty years or so ago, the " new " immigrants found themselves merged in a great mass of many millions, consisting almost wholly of Anglo-Saxons, it is becoming increasingly accurate that our new arrivals from southern and eastern Europe and from Asia come less and less in contact with the older part of our population.

What difference does it make to the 200,000 Italians, Hebrews, and Poles who were last year destined to New York State, and mostly to New York City, that there is a total population in the country of 80,000,000?

The path of an immigrant is straightforward from his European village to a settlement of his own countrymen in some American city. He naturally goes where his relatives and friends have already settled; he may live for years in an American community without coming very directly in contact with the older portion of the population, and sometimes even without finding any necessity of learning the English language.

Thus it appears that statistics of annual immigration, in its relation to the total population of the country, cannot give any idea of the capacity of our people for the assimilation of the millions of immigrants who came last year, nor of the possible future assimilation of the millions who will later come to us.

Regarding Mr. Austin's second conclusion, "that the so-called" objectionable class' is not the class which is filling the jails and almshouses/' it should be noted that the census statistics of criminality are defective in that they do not make adequate distinction between criminals of foreign birth and of foreign parentage, and that crimes are not classified correctly in respect of their being petty or severe.

Secondly, it is yet too early to determine statistically what the relation of the new immigration to crime and pauperism will be, there is a good deal of evidence that the children of our recent immigrants are less law-abiding than their foreign-born parents.

Thus, in the Final Report of the United States Industrial Commission, page 967, it is stated that "the second generation, i. e., the native children of foreign parents, furnish the largest proportion of commitments and prisoners of all race elements in the population."

Thirdly, a good deal of evidence can be adduced to show that the new immigration is a good deal of a financial burden, after all. In New York City there is, of course, the most significant congestion of recent immigrants.

Here the rest of the country may well learn a lesson as to the conditions which are pretty sure to prevail elsewhere, as our other cities become more and more filled with the " Pipe-Line " immigrants from the slums of Europe and of Asia. One of the managers of the "House of Refuge" in New York City says:

"I notice a large number of children that are placed in charitable institutions for no crime or misdemeanor but to relieve their parents of their support. They are principally from southern and eastern Europe."

There are estimated to be 40,000 cases of trachoma in New York City, imported almost entirely by aliens from southern and eastern Europe, and this danger is so high that the Boards of Education and of Health have found it necessary to examine the pupils in the public schools at frequent intervals, to check the spread of this disease among the children. Dr. H. J. Shively says:

"Infection from trachoma and favus is readily traced to immigrant sources; in tuberculosis, the course of the disease is slow and insidious, and immediate sources of infection are less readily recognized. It is perhaps for this reason that the danger of the tuberculous immigrant to the health of the community has not been emphasized as it should be."

When all has been said, pro and con, it still remains a fact that, whether the new immigration does or does not add unduly to the number of criminals and dependents, it certainly adds considerably to them, and finally, that the present gives but little idea of what the future will bring forth.

The fact that our newer immigrants have so far not furnished a disproportionately large number of paupers is doubtless in part due to their lower standards of living. But, meanwhile, these same lower standards of living work detrimentally concerning the community as a whole.

Mr. Austin's third conclusion as to the " new " immigrants is " that, while they are somewhat deficient in the matter of education, that of their children is likely to compare favorably with that of our own population, and that they will thus contribute a safe and valuable element to the future population of the country."

This opinion is based on the fact that a more significant percentage of the children of immigrants go to school during the years between five and fourteen than of the children of native whites, and that the rate of illiterates among children born in the United States of foreign parents is smaller than among the children of native whites.

These facts are well known and are among the most hopeful and most encouraging signs for the future. On the other hand, however, ought we to make our already heavy burden of native illiteracy any heavier by adding to it several hundred thousand foreign illiterates, for a reason, forsooth, that the children of these foreign illiterates will form " a safe and valuable element" in the population?

We have the burden of native illiteracy, adult, and child; we have the weight of negro education. Our first duty is, obviously, to our own people. Shall we deliberately add to these burdens the education of the illiterate rail lions who are coming and will continue to come from foreign lands?

Miss Adele Marie Shaw, who has recently made a thorough study of the New York City public schools, concludes that the only remedies for the conditions there existing are the restriction of foreign immigration and a vast increase in expenditure— u larger than any yet dreamed of."

"With eighty-five percent, of its population foreign or of foreign parentage, its salvation dependent upon the conversion of a daily arriving city full of Russians, Turks, Austro-Hungarians, Sicilians, Greeks, Arabs, into good Americans . . . the city has a problem with popular education that is staggering."

Furthermore, it is to be remembered that the very statistics which show the small illiteracy of the children of foreign-born immigrants also show a high percentage of the criminality of these same children when they grow up.

Fourthly, regarding the relation of the newer immigrants of the " objectionable class " to politics, it is claimed by Mr. Austin " that they are not, as a class, as dangerous an element in politics as has been frequently asserted."

To confirm this view, statistics are given to show that the recent immigrants from southern and eastern Europe have not, as a whole, become naturalized to any great extent, and hence do not exert a bad political influence, because they do not vote.

This is a curious argument, from an American point of view: that there is no objection to having a large number of immigrants of certain races in our population as long as these people do not vote. Can that be a very desirable class of immigrants that we are anxious to have remained outside the body politic?

The fact that many electoral votes against free silver in 1896 came from States having a large number of foreign-born voters is not an argument against the further restriction of the immigration of races least closely allied to us, for these foreign-born voters were almost altogether from northern and western Europe, the others, as Mr. Austin himself points out, not generally being naturalized.

Mr. Austin's last conclusion is " that they are an important factor in the development and wealth-producing power of the country," and this conclusion he supports utilizing statistics showing that in the States having a large proportion of foreigners, there has been very significant production of wealth.

No one can, or would, deny the fact that recent immigrants have contributed to the wealth of the country, but to argue from bare statistics that, because these States have witnessed a substantial production of wealth, therefore the "new" immigration should be allowed to continue practically as at present, is somewhat illogical.

The capitalist usually considers cheap labor to be an advantage, and large employers of labor have always used their influence in Congress to ward off impending immigration legislation. But, as Mr. Edward T. Devine, Secretary of the Charity Organization Society of New York, has recently well said:

" While it is true that cheap labor may be profitable from the employer's point of view, it does not follow that those who are considering the interests of the community as a whole can look with favor upon it. . . .

The effect of utilizing underpaid immigrant labor under conditions which, to afford to live at all, make excessive demands upon adult men, and lead irresistibly to the employment of women and children, is directly to increase the number who sooner or later require relief. . . .

 The understandable tendency is to augment the number of those who break down prematurely; of those who in advanced years have made no provision for their own maintenance.

Of the children whose support must be supplied by others than their own parents, and of those who, meeting with unexpected misfortunes of any kind, have no resources except the generosity of strangers."

In other words, labor, which is economically "cheap," is not socially "cheap." Concerning the character of much of our present immigration, we have the testimony of the Commissioner of Immigration at New York.

One of the most efficient, capable and honest officers who have ever been in the Government service, who holds that "capital cannot, and would not if it could employ much of the alien material that annually passes through Ellis Island. "These people" are neither physically nor mentally fitted to go to the undeveloped parts of our country."

"At least 200,000 (and probably more) aliens came in (last year) who, although they may be able to earn a living, yet are not wanted, will be of no benefit to the country, and will, on the contrary, be a detriment, because their presence will tend to lower our standards.

And if these 200,000 persons could have been induced to stay at home, nobody, not even those clamoring for more labor, would have missed them. Their coming has been of benefit chiefly, if not only, to the transportation companies which brought them here."

The writer is not a believer in the total prohibition of immigration, nor even in a considerable measure of restriction; he realizes that good immigration always has been and always will be an advantage to this country.

He does not for a moment wish to appear as opposing Italian immigration, or Jewish immigration, or Hungarian immigration as a whole; he has come into too close contact with many of our newer immigrants to have failed to see the many excellent qualities which distinguish large numbers of these people.

He merely wishes to present, for the consideration of the readers of the Review, the other side of the conclusions which Mr. Austin has reached. He feels that anyone who makes a thorough study of the whole immigration problem,—not of a few alien families in one city only—without the prejudice of mere sentiment or of selfish and financial interests, and who looks to the future rather than at the present, must reach the conclusion that some reduction in the volume of immigration is necessary, if American standards of living, and American ideals generally, are to be maintained for all time.

This reduction may be accomplished using a law limiting the number of immigrants from different countries who shall come here each year, as has been suggested by Congressman Robert Adams, Jr., of Pennsylvania; or, less arbitrarily, utilizing the illiteracy test, which has the support of President Roosevelt, of the Commissioner of Immigration, and of a vast majority of those who have given the subject serious thought.

This test is in line with our ideas of universal education; will enormously stimulate the demand for accessible education in Europe; will reduce the number of immigrants to a volume which there is some possibility of our being able to assimilate; will, with reasonable exceptions to prevent the separation of families, admit those only who, possessing the rudiments of an education, will certainly have a valuable asset in the struggle for existence.

The fundamental question which underlies everything else in this immigration problem has not even been alluded to in Mr. Austin's article. No statistical study of immigration can ever be complete because there is one element, more important than all the others, concerning which no statistics can ever be compiled.

That element is the number of American children who, because of the pressure of foreign immigration, have never been born. Back of all statistics of the criminality, pauperism, assimilation, illiteracy, naturalization, and economic value of immigrants, lies the great question of the effect of immigration upon our native, or older, stock.

No discussion of this question can be at all complete, which leaves this out of consideration. The immigration of the last fifty years has contributed millions to our population; it has undoubtedly added enormously to the wealth of the country, but these things have been accomplished at the expense of the native stock.

The decreasing birth-rate of our native population, the complex resultant, without doubt, of many factors, has been very largely due to the effect of foreign immigration.

The late General Walker first advanced this view; that, as newer and lower classes of immigrants, came to this country, Americans shrank more and more from the industrial competition which was thus forced upon them; they became unwilling to subject their sons and daughters to this competition, and hence these sons and daughters were never born.

The stronger the competition, the higher the effort to maintain and raise the standard of living and the social position above that of the majority of recent immigrants, and the more significant this effort, the higher the voluntary check to population.

This competition is most acute in its consequences when it is due to the immigration of races which are able and content to live under wholly inferior conditions.

When this immigration continually feeds the lower strata of the population, however rapidly the intermediate levels may be raised in their standards of living.

The question is a race question, pure and simple. Many of our recent immigrants, not discouraged by the problem of maintaining high standards of living with their many children, are replacing native Americans. It is fundamentally a question as to what kind of babies shall be born; it is a question as to what races shall dominate in this country.

The American birth-rate is decreasing. Mr. R. R. Kuczynski, after a meticulous study of the population statistics of Massachusetts, concludes that the native population is dying out. General Walker believed that foreign immigration into this country has, from the time it assumed gigantic proportions, not reinforced our people, but replaced it.

The United States Industrial Commission, which made one of the most thorough studies of immigration ever undertaken, says in its Pinal Report that "it is a hasty assumption which holds that immigration during the nineteenth century has increased the total population."

In his new book, "The Slav Invasion and the Mine Workers," Dr. P. J. Wame says that the coming of the Slavs into the mining districts of Pennsylvania since 1880 has determined the number of births in the older, English-speaking portion of the population.

More recently still, Mr. Henry Gannett, well known for his statistical work in connection with the Census, in a hitherto unpublished statement, says:

"I do not think that our population has been materially, if at all, increased by immigration. On the contrary, I think that our population would be almost, if not quite, as numerous if the great flood of immigration which began in 1847 had never reached our shores."

Mr. Gannett believes that the mixture of our blood with that of Germany, Ireland, and Scandinavia has been an advantage. Still, he also believes that a combination with the blood of the " new " immigration " can have only a bad effect."

Finally, in a recent article, Mr. Robert Hunter, of the University Settlement in New York, puts the case very clearly as follows:

"The fathers and mothers of the American children can be chosen, and it is in the power of Congress to decide upon what merits. . .. No nation has ever had a social responsibility of greater magnitude.

The future of American society, industry, religious faith, political institutions, may be decided in a way quite marvelous by the governing powers of this country.

The worst aspect of the whole matter is that the selfish forces interested in promoting immigration in every conceivable way, are deciding all these questions for us. The ones who come and the numbers who come depend mainly upon the steamship companies.

Whether we have more Hungarians than Italians, or Syrians than Greeks, or Scandinavians than Slavs, depends to a considerable extent upon their ports, their passage rates, and their success in advertising and soliciting. ... I believe that this country may be ruined by leaving the volume and quality of immigration almost entirely to the decision of the steamship companies. . ..

The skill of their agents decides whether we shall have one race or another come in great masses to our shores. ... If we let the steamship companies and the railroads, wanting cheap labor, alone, we shall not decide what immigrants will be better for coming and what ones the country needs. They will choose it for us. . ..

Our governing bodies ... in the past . . . have failed to consider the welfare of the people, either immigrants or Americans. The decision has been made as a result of pressure brought to bear upon public officials by private and selfish interests.

Our national characteristics may be changed; our love of freedom, our religion, our inventive faculties, our standard of life. All of the things, in fact, for which America has been more or less distinctive among the nations, may be entirely altered.

Our race may be supplanted by another, by an Asiatic one, for instance, and not because it is better so, nor because it is for the world's good. On the contrary, it is so that individuals interested in steamships may be benefited, and so that employers may have cheaper labor. These selfish forces may be disguised, but they are there."

Robert De C. Ward, "The Restriction of Immigration," in The North American Review, Cedar Falls: University of Northern Iowa, Vol. 179, No. 573, August 1904, pp. 226-237.

  [i] Note 1 That part of the contract which concerns the guarantee of 30,000 emigrants annually has since been modified, according to cabled reports from Europe.

[ii] Note 2 The competition between the rival steamship lines has recently resulted in a rate-war, and in an accompanying reduction of the cost of a steerage passage from many Europeans ports to the United States to ten dollars, and even less. The natural consequences have been an increase in the number of immigrants and a marked deterioration in their quality.


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