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Open Immigration Suspended

There had always been those who opposed immigration to America, but in the wake of World War I opposition to immigration mounted as more and more people blamed America's social and economic problems on their country's growing ethnic diversity. In 1918-19, a congressional committee investigated the issue. In these excerpts from its report to the House of Representatives, the committee claims to be unbiased, but it appears nonetheless preoccupied with the fact that many of the immigrants were Jewish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the third session of the Sixty-fifth Congress the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization gave thorough consideration to the question of immigration restriction. Several bills were introduced and extended hearings were held. . . .

This bill provided for the prohibition of immigration for a period of four years. The committee was practically unanimously in favor of such a prohibition, and at that time it was thought such a bill could be passed if time for its consideration could be given on the floor of the House. But the House calendars were so congested that the bill did not receive a hearing and therefore failed of enactment. . . .

It is impossible to estimate the effect which the . . . bill would have produced had it become a law during the Sixty-fifth Congress. But of this much we can be certain: That countless numbers of persons now coming to the United States would not have left their homes in Europe during the past year. . . . The flow of immigration to the United States is now in full flood. The need for restrictive legislation is apparent. The accommodations at Ellis Island are not sufficient for the avalanche of new arrivals; larger cities have not houses for them; work cannot be found for them; and further, the bulk of the newer arrivals are of the dependent rather than the working class. . . .

Members of the committee found the new immigration at Ellis Island to consist practically of all nationalities except Orientals. It found by far the largest percentage of immigrants to be peoples of Jewish extraction. On the steamship New Amsterdam, sailing from Rotterdam, the committee found that 80 percent of the steerage passengers were from Galicia, practically all of Jewish extraction. . . . The committee is confirmed in the belief that the major portions of recent arrivals come without funds. It was apparent to the committee that a large percentage of those arriving were incapable of earning a livelihood. . . .

The committee has disregarded all statements that might give a religious bias of any kind to the matter under consideration. It is fair to state, however, that the largest number of Jews coming to the United States before the war [World War I] in a single year was 153,748 (1906); while during the one month of October 1920; it is estimated that of the 74,665 immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, more than 75 percent were of the Semitic race.

Figures available for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1920, show that a very small number of these peoples gave as their reason for coming to the United States the desire to escape religious or political persecution.

 

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