A Brief of the Question of Immigration in Outline Form - 1915

A Brief of the Question of Immigration in Outline Form - 1915

This Brief was prepared in 1915 by Mary Katarine Reely, who compiled selected articles on Immigration as part of the Debaters' Handbook Series. It represents the arguments on both sides of the immigration question that reflect the immigration laws in effect as of March 1915.

Resolved, That immigration to the United States from Europe should be further restricted and that the literacy test offers the best means of restriction.


I. The character of immigration has changed.

A. The number of immigrants coming from the northern European countries has decreased.

B. The number of immigrants coming from the southern European countries has increased.

II. Conditions in the United States have changed.

A. The public lands have been taken up.

B. Population is congested in cities.

C. Our industrial system has developed so that class lines are more firmly fixed; the poor man no longer has the opportunity to rise that was the boast of our earlier civilization.

III. In this debate certain questions rising out of the above considerations must be answered.

A. Is the new immigration inferior to the old?

B. Can it he assimilated ?

C. Is it desirable?

D. Does the United States need more immigrants?

E. Are the present laws adequate?

F. What new restrictions, if any, shall be imposed?

IV. The Affirmative will take the stand that the new immigration is inferior; that we do not desire or need it; that it is already proving a detriment to the country; that the present laws are not adequate, and that new restrictions, chief of them a literacy test, should be imposed.

V. The Negative will take the stand that the new immigration is different, but not necessarily inferior; that the new immigrants can be assimilated and that the country has a place for them; that they can be made into good citizens by wise direction and distribution; that the present laws are adequate, and that the imposition of a literacy test would be unwise.

VI. When we speak of the old and the new immigration we shall make the year 1880 the date of division.


I. The new immigration is inferior to the old.

A. The new immigrants come from an inferior stock.

I. The Latin and Slav are inferior to the Teuton in physique.

2. They are less adapted to heavy labor.

3. They are more subject to infection and disease.

B. They are illiterate.

C. They are unskilled.

D. They have a lower standard of living and a lower grade of morality.

II. The new immigrants cannot be assimilated.

A. The early immigrants (Germans, Scandinavians, etc.) belonged to the same race stock; they were easily amalgamated; (the new immigrants will not mix with these nor with the native American stock)

B. The new immigrants herd together in cities and do not learn American ways.

C. If we attempt to assimilate this crude mass one of two things will happen:

I. American stock will be replaced.

a. The native birth rate tends to decline with immigration.

2. It will he deteriorated by the infusion of inferior blood.

D. Many of these new immigrants have no intention of making homes in America.

E. Most of the new immigrants have strong racial prejudices and antipathies.

III. The United States does not need more immigrants.

A. The public lands are well taken up; those remaining call for a scientific skill not possessed by the new immigrants.

B. The era of expansion when crude labor was needed in the building of railroads, etc., has passed.

C. America is no longer called on to furnish an asylum for the oppressed.

1. Immigrants now come only to better their own economic condition.

2. Immigration is encouraged by steamship companies and other interested agencies.

IV. The new immigration is undesirable; its evil effects are:

A. Social.

1. The standard of living is lowered.

2. The problems of organized charity are increased.

3. The numbers of the criminal and insane classes are increased.

4. The problems of the public school are complicated.

5. A caste system tends to become fixed.

6. The presence of large numbers of immigrant men living a non-family life lowers the moral tone of the community.

B. Industrial and economic.

I. The labor market is overcrowded.

2. Wages are lowered or kept down.

3. The unemployment problem is aggravated.

4. Labor organization is weakened.

5. Large sums of money are sent out of the country annually or taken out by immigrants who return to their European homes.

C. Political.

1. The new immigrants coming from monarchial countries have no conception of the ideals of a democracy.

2. They lend themselves readily to political corruption.

3. Home rule for cities and municipal reforms generally have been delayed by the presence of large bodies of alien citizens within a city's population.

4. Many have anarchistic ideas.

V. Distribution and regulation will not solve the problem.

A. Those who advocate distribution as a panacea hope to send incoming immigrants to agricultural districts, but

I. The present immigrants are not agricultural.

2. Those who have been accustomed to farm labor in their own country have worked under very different conditions and are not fitted to meet the demands of an undeveloped' country, especially in the arid regions of the West.

3. The demand for farm labor is seasonal.

4. American farmers do not want laborers of the new immigrant class.

5. The South does not want them.

6. The immigrants will refuse to be distributed. They are gregarious and live in groups of their own kind through choice. They will not consent to be isolated.

VI. The present laws are not adequate.

A. They let in the ignorant, illiterate and unskilled who are a detriment to the country.

B. By making the country easy of access, they give foreigners a false impression of the opportunities offered here; they come only to be disappointed.

C. They give employers and steamship companies an opportunity to enrich themselves at the expense of the immigrant

VII. Of the proposed restrictions the Affirmative favors the literacy test, because

A. It would restrict numbers.

B. It would let in only the more desirable class.

C. It would not materially affect the immigration from northern Europe.

D. It could be effectively enforced.


I. The new immigration is different—not necessarily inferior.

A. The Latin and Slav races possess qualities that may enrich American life.

1. They, especially the former, have a love for beauty, color and music and an appreciation of the fine arts.

2. They are a social people and tend to dilute the extreme individualism of the Anglo-Saxon type.

3. They are more adaptable than are the stolid northern races.

B. They come from lands of few opportunities.

I. Experience shows that under new conditions they tend to shake off the stultifying effects of the old environment.

a. The second generation shows an increase in stature.

b. The second generation readily adopts new standards of living, new ambitions and ideals.

2. Their illiteracy is due to lack of educational opportunities.

a. Our foreign residents are among the most enthusiastic supporters of the public schools.

b. Adults eagerly avail themselves of night school opportunities.

II. The new immigrants can be assimilated.

A. They readily learn American ways. Those returning to the old countries take American customs back with them and transform their old villages.

B. They actually are assimilated by the time the second and third generations are reached.

III. The United States still needs the immigrant.

A. Great sections of country are still undeveloped.

I. The South, which is just beginning to realize her own resources, needs immigration.

2. Immigrants are needed in the West, which is still sparsely settled, and where new methods of farming have opened up great tracts of land before considered useless.

B. They are still needed as laborers in construction work, as well as in mills and mines.

C. They are proving their value as intensive farmers on the abandoned farms of the East.

IV. An examination of the so-called evils of the new immigration shows that they are either exaggerated or nonexistent.

A. The social side.

1. Americans or earlier immigrants have never adopted the standards of an incoming people. The newcomers strive to emulate the native citizens, so it cannot be said that the standard of living is lowered by immigration.

2. The new immigrants have habits of economy and frugality and the ability to make a little go a long way that keeps them free from the aid of charity.

3. The help given by organized charity more often takes the form of advice than it does of alms.

4. In their patronage of the public schools, libraries, art galleries and concerts they may teach Americans a lesson.

5. All the charges against the new immigrants were once made against the old immigrants, i.e. the "wild Irish," the "Dutch," etc.

6. A few aliens have become public charges not because they were immigrants but because of defects in our present social and industrial system which affect both American and foreign born alike.

B. The immigrant as an economic factor.

1. Each succeeding wave of immigration has forced the preceding wave forward, driving first the native stock, then the Irish, the Germans, etc., higher in the economic scale.

2. The new immigration, which is a less fixed and stable force than the old, tends to equalize labor conditions.

a. News now travels fast and they come to America only in years of promising conditions.

b. They return in large numbers in years when times are bad.

3. Once converted to union principles they make excellent union material and are not backward in demanding an American wage.

4. For the money which the immigrant sends home he gives a full return in labor.

C. As a political factor.

I. As material for political corruption he is often equaled by the native born.

2. His so-called corruption is often due to ignorance and could be remedied by a more careful enforcement of naturalization laws and by better educational opportunities for adults.

3. He often comes to America full of enthusiasm for democratic ideals; it is to our shame that he is sometimes disappointed.

4.. From the ranks of immigrants have come many wise statesmen and political leaders.

5. Immigrants on the whole make intelligent, patriotic citizens.

V. The solution of the immigration problem requires a change in our attitude toward the immigrant and the adoption of a system of distribution.

A. In our attitude toward the immigrant we have thought too much of the benefits he would derive from the mere privilege of living in America.

B. We must consider the gifts and natural abilities he brings with him and make better use of them.

C. We must cease to blame him for living in a slum and working under bad conditions; the slum and the conditions are ours.

D. We must devise a scheme of distribution that will provide for :

I. The movement of this new mobile labor force to the parts of the country that need it.

2. The establishment of agricultural colonies where

a. The new immigrants may find permanent homes.

b. Their knowledge of intensive methods of farming may become a valuable asset to the country.

VI. The present laws are adequate.

A. They keep out criminals, paupers, the physically unfit and all really undesirable classes.

B. What is needed is a more careful administration of the laws we now have.

VII. The Negative is opposed to the literacy test, because

A. It would only restrict numbers; it would not select quality.

1. Literacy is not a test of quality or of intelligence.

2. Literacy is the result of opportunity.

3. The strong, willing, earnest worker, the illiterate, may be the most desirable citizen.

4. There is less illiteracy among the children of foreign-born parentage in our country than among those of American parentage.

B. It would not prove successful in operation.

1. It would be superficial and the clever rogue could easily prepare himself to pass it.

2. It would act in favor of the city-bred and against the immigrant from the country districts.

C. To make lack of opportunity a punishable offence is contrary to American ideals.


Return to Top of Page