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The Statement of the Immigration Problem

What is the immigration problem?

The people of the United States stand for what, in their judgment, is the highest, best civilization in the world. Beyond question this judgment is often a narrow one. Few people know the best characteristics of the leading European nations, much less those of the more remote civilizations of India, Japan and China; but however biased their judgment may be, the Americans undeniably wish to maintain their standard, and if possible to raise it. The problem becomes then, How does immigration affect American civilization now, and what is its influence likely to be in the future?

In order to solve a problem of this nature it becomes necessary:

1. To fix for ourselves a standard of civilization; 2. To secure all the facts about immigration that bear in any important way upon our civilization;

3. To measure as carefully as possible the influence of these facts upon that standard; and

4. As a practical people, if immigration and the conditions brought about by it are affecting our civilization unfavorably, to suggest measures, either governmental or social, that will prove to be a sufficient remedy.

Immigration of foreigners into the United States has been long recognized as one of our important social and political problems. Perhaps no other question has aroused more bitter feelings at times, or has called out more lofty sentiments of altruistic purpose. On the one hand, our Government has been besought to protect our people from the "degrading influence" of the immigrant. On the other, it has been declared that our doors should never be closed against those suffering from religious or political persecution. Generally speaking, there has been little difference of opinion regarding the latter sentiment. There has been great difference of opinion, however, relative to the effects, economic, social and moral, of immigration upon American standards of living. Usually the question, especially the effect of immigration upon industrial conditions, has been discust with very little real knowledge.

Of late years American wage-earners generally have considered immigration injurious to their interests. The employers of labor, viewing the question from a different standpoint, have often urged the scarcity of labor and the need of immigration to develop properly our country's resources. Still others have felt that, regardless of the industrial effect, the ideals of our country as the home of the opprest ought not to be lowered.

On February 20, 1907, a general Immigration Act passed by Congress became law. In the discussions before Congress no change in the general immigration policy of the Government was at first proposed. Later an amendment was passed by the Senate, inserting a literacy test for the immigrant, which provided for the exclusion of "all persons over sixteen years of

age and physically capable of reading, who can not read the English language or some other language; but an admissible immigrant or a person now in or hereafter admitted to this country may bring in or send for his wife, his children under eighteen years of age, and his parents or grandparents over fifty years. of age, if they are otherwise admissible, whether they are so able to read or not."*

Establishment of Immigration Commission to Study Problem

Later, after much discussion in the House and the Senate and in conference, it was agreed that the question of a literacy test should be for the time being set aside, and that a commission should be created charged with making "full inquiry, examination and investigation of the subject," this being clearly an admission that it was wise to be better informed on the facts regarding the immigrants and the influence of immigration before adopting any special test restrictive in its nature, or before making an important change in governmental policy.

A Commission, consisting of three Senators appointed by the Vice-President, three Representatives appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and three citizens appointed by the President of the United States, was created to make this investigation.†

Conclusions and Recommendations of Immigration Commission, p. 5. Cf., the provision in the bill passed by Congress in 1913, and vetoed by President Taft, Appendix, p. 414.

+ The Commission consisted of: Senator William P. Dillingham, Vermont, chairman; Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Massachusetts; Senator Asbury C. Latimer, South Carolina; Representative Benjamin F. Howell, New Jersey; Representative William S. Bennet, New York; Representative

In placing before this Commission his views regarding the scope of its inquiry, President Roosevelt said that, in his judgment, the most important problem before the American people, next possibly to the question of conservation, was that of immigration. The facts concerning immigration were not well known. Legislation heretofore had been built upon fragmentary information, and on local or individual inquiries. He hoped that the Commission would be so provided with funds and given such opportunity for its work that its investigation might be very thorough, so that hereafter, when immigration should again become the subject of legislation, there would be no need of going back of the Commission's report.


The Commission viewed the problem in this light, and accordingly the scope of its inquiries was wide and every means was taken to make the work thorough and accurate.

In order to carry out the instructions of the President it was thought best to print not only the report and recommendations but also the basic material practically all of which is new, so that hereafter, when the question again comes up, there will be found in the forty-one volumes of the report the material on which the conclusions and recommendations of the Commission are based. Investigators need not accept those conclusions and recommendations on faith. They may if they wish go through

John L. Burnett, Georgia; Mr. Charles P. Neill, Texas; Mr. Jeremiah W. Jenks, New York; Mr. William R. Wheeler, California.

Senator Latimer died February 20, 1908, and was succeeded by Senator Anselm J. McLaurin, Mississippi.

Senator McLaurin died December 22, 1909, and was succeeded by Senator Le Roy Percy, Mississippi.

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