THE PROTECTION OF IMMIGRANTS, VERSUS EXCLUSION
During the last decade there has been much discussion as to the need of restricting the number of immigrants who shall be allowed to enter America. The assertion is commonly made that one million immigrants a year are coming into this country, yet Secretary Nagel's annual report for the fiscal year ending June 30th, 1912, shows that while during the year 1,017,155 aliens entered, during the same year 615,292 aliens left the country; so that the net or actual increase in the alien population for the fiscal year 1912 was therefore 401,863; the corresponding increase in 1911 was 512,085, averaging less than half a million a year. Only those who have lived in an immigrant neighborhood realize the constant journeyings to and fro by the immigrants. These migrations may be due to fluctuations in trade, to a bad harvest in Italy or America, to illness or death in family groups or to [rumors] of war; only a few weeks ago two hundred Greeks met in one of the halls at Hull-House to receive the blessing of their priest before they went back to war in the Balkan states. [page 2]
Although the ratio which the final increase of immigration bears to the whole population for the last twenty years was nineteen and nine-tenths, many of our industrial difficulties are charged to the over-supply of unskilled labor furnished by the newly arrived immigrants. It is difficult to demonstrate this without a comprehensive inquiry, for we have no national system of labor exchanges which might show how much of the apparent unemployment is maladjustment of the supply to the demand and how much is over-supply. Certainly underemployment, casual work, long hours, poor wages, unsanitary shops, are found in industries in which the "unskilled immigrant man" is not employed. Limiting the supply by restricting immigration will cure none of these and it merely confuses the issue to claim that it will. Until industrial conditions in America are faced, the immigrant will continue to be blamed for conditions for which the community is responsible.
There is no doubt that America has failed to make legislative provision against industrial evils as other countries have done, partly because the average citizen holds a contemptuous attitude toward the "foreigner" and is not stirred to action on his behalf. I have seen strong young men incapacitated during their first three months in America as the result of working in sand blasting or lead [enameling] although at home they would have [page 3] been adequately protected from industrial disease by a code of industrial legislation.
The immigration authorities at Ellis Island are most careful not to admit "contract labor" lest the great corporations profit thereby at the expense of the American working man but the government has not yet insisted that these same corporations shall bear the economic loss of the men who are seriously injured or killed while in their employ, or that human waste shall automatically involve a reduction of profits. Of the 2,511 miners killed in America last year a surprising number were immigrants. Although no system of safeguards in the world has been so carefully worked out as those which apply to mines, only thirty-two states have legislation on the subject. While the states of Wisconsin and Illinois successfully operate an Employers' Liability Law, and while much may be hoped from the current popular discussion of the matter throughout the land, the wanton destruction of thousands of young men who are killed every year for lack of well-known safeguards must be faced as a national responsibility.
Such undertakings do not of necessity imply more federal authority although it is obviously necessary in certain directions, but it does postulate a body of people in every state who understand our indebtedness to the immigrant and his claim upon the industries which too often send [page 4] him back across the Atlantic crippled and depleted -- a sorry advertisement for the land of opportunity to which he had so buoyantly set sail. I recall a handsome young Macedonian who had lost both arms when he was cleaning a boiler because he did not understand his "fellow-servant" when he shouted that he was going to turn on the steam. He used to sit through the sunny hours of one summer in the Hull-House court, slowly recovering his strength that he might go back to his native hills -- a shepherd without a crook -- hoping to control his sheep through his voice which was wonderfully sweet and penetrating. A Lett, living within a few blocks of Hull-House, so injured his back during his first month's work with a construction company in Chicago that he may become a hopeless cripple. His wife, leaving the three children in Russia with their grandparents, came to America in order to care for him; she works every night in a factory and they both live as best they may upon her pitiful earnings. It can only be a matter of time when the woman, exhausted by factory work at night and the care of a sick man by day, will succumb to the double burden and then both of them will be declared paupers. If this happens within the next three years they are liable to deportation although they will have given of their best strength to American industry and throughout have been honest, God-fearing people. Even when the immigrant escapes industrial disaster he still faces a higher death rate than that which obtains among his American neighbors, and increasing insanity due to the complexity of his new occupations and the nervous [page 5] strain of maladjustment, added to the fact that his cheap food is too often filled with dubious preservatives and the imitation of his native drinks is drugged by poisonous stimulants. "Things always happen to a greenhorn" is a phrase often heard in our neighborhood.
"A national public health service" would devise some practical scheme of inspection and supervision of those labor camps and crowded lodging houses in which thousands of immigrants who come to us in good health and with decent habits, so often contract disease and vicious practices. Unless some systematic effort is made on their behalf these large groups of future citizens will not only lose their own health and virtue but will become a menace to the entire community.
Shall America be slower than the European powers to protect its industrial citizens and shall we continue to allow sturdy immigrants slowly to deteriorate because, having crossed the sea, according to our democratic theory they do not need protection, or shall we not pledge ourselves to a legislation which will in time mitigate the industrial evils of America as they have already been lessened in other countries.
Our Federal government, so quick to reject the unfit immigrant at the point of entry, has no machinery for directing the fit into localities where steady labor is in demand and where agricultural skill is sorely needed. At Hull-House I have known immigrants massed in tenement houses, twenty-four men in a room ten by fourteen, who were idle and helpless for many months although Chicago is a great labor market whence thousands of men are annually sent out in groups to work upon the railroads of [page 6] our country which Italians are building in America as the Roman legions once built the great basic roads of Europe. Quite recently fifty-two Hungarians, forty-nine men, two women and a baby, were sent by an employment agency from Chicago to Arkansas to work on a railroad, to find when they arrived that but seven men and one woman cook were required. The forty-two men, after pooling their money for a railroad ticket for the remaining woman and the baby, walked back to Chicago only to be told that there was plenty of work in Missouri, less than a hundred miles from the place they had left, which they might have upon the payment of another fee and money for transportation. Quite naturally they refused to leave Chicago again where they could at least obtain shelter with their countrymen. Certainly there is need of governmental action to encourage a proper distribution of immigrants.
Last Autumn I took a train at a University town in North Dakota, to find the station, its platform and the very railroad tracks covered with men -- a thousand immigrants who were leaving the harvest fields and buying their tickets to Duluth. Some of them had followed the harvest from Kansas, ever going northward as the grain ripened. They did not know what awaited them at Duluth; no provision, of course, had been made for their housing nor was anyone concerned to find work for them there. The strength and energy which this large group of young men represented would probably be unutilized for many weeks unless they found something by mere chance. [page 7]
The only service America is universally eager to render to the immigrant and his children, and moreover the only one it is thoroughly equipped to offer, is free education. By the same token, so eager are the immigrants to avail themselves of America's educational opportunities for their children that the census figures show greater illiteracy among native whites of native parentage than among native whites of foreign parentage. The average illiteracy of native white of native parentage is 5.7% and of native white of foreign parents 1.6%.
As it seems clear that illiteracy is the one defect most easily remedied, in the light of these figures it is difficult to understand why the advocates of restriction urge that all immigrants who do not read and write should be excluded. It is true that the literacy test can be easily applied and is in line with our rooted belief that self-government is a matter of voting and that therefore a man must be able to read his ballot. We forget that the great need of America is the development of its resources and an adherence to the ideals of self-government, that a man is valuable to the nation as he is honest and efficient [page 8] and of high moral character.
After all, literacy is neither a test of character nor of ability; it is merely an index of the educational system of the community in which a man has been reared. The literacy test will always work in favor of the man from the city and will discriminate against the man from the country. On the face of it, it would seem safer to admit a sturdy peasant from the mountains of Calabria than a sophisticated [Neapolitan] familiar with the refined methods of police graft which have made the [Camorra] famous. In addition to that, the peasant finds work waiting for him; the educated man "above manual labor" often has a pitiful struggle to keep himself from starvation. Our experience at Hull-House is similar to that of the friends of the immigrant everywhere. We recall an Italian editor, a Greek professor, a Russian medical student, an Armenian Master of Arts, for whom it was impossible to obtain anything but manual work which they finally undertook in bitterness of spirit and with insufficiency of muscle. A settlement constantly sees the deterioration of highly educated foreigners under strain of maladjustment, in marked contrast to the often rapid rise of the families of illiterate immigrants. One of the most gifted boys ever connected with Hull-House, who is now a rising man in his profession and in the civic life of Chicago, is the son of immigrant parents who can neither read nor write, while one of our most baffling cases is the refined and educated son of a Greek [clergyman] who can find no work which he does not consider beneath his <educational qualifications.> [page 9]
Human nature has always evinced an unaccountable tendency to be suspicious of the foreigner, on the ground apparently that a man who speaks an alien tongue and has been born on the other side of a mountain or across the dividing sea must therefore be strange and uncouth. It may have been due to this universal tendency that America throughout its history has been inclined to regard each new set of immigrants with a certain contempt which at moments has risen even into a spirit of ridicule. Some of us recall that in our own childhood the Germans were often called opprobrious names, that their broken English was derided and that their very food and clothing afforded material for mockery; yet we all know that it was the German immigrants, especially the exiles from the revolution of '48, who brought a new intellectual [vigor] and enthusiasm into our republican institutions, that it was the German voters who were largely responsible for our system of factory inspection and might even now teach us the secret of effective municipal administration, as their countrymen in Germany are teaching the young <world.>
Some of us also recall instances of contempt evinced toward the more recent immigrants, the Italians, the Bohemians, the Poles, although they bring poetry, color and music into utilitarian America; or toward the political refugees from Russia who, more enthusiastic over the possibilities of self-government than the Americans themselves <ever> bring with them a living faith in democracy. [page 10]