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Immigration Problem of Massachusetts

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The welfare of State and Immigrant are inseparably linked. The State must safeguard its own interests by promoting the welfare of the immigrant population. This in brief is the note struck by the report of the Commission on Immigration which has just been presented to the Legislature.

The Report is a comprehensive pamphlet of some 300 pages. It is introduced by an outline of the existing situation. Last year over 100,000 immigrants arrived in Massachusetts. During the past ten years the yearly average has been over 73,000. “At present the one-third of the population that is native born of native parentage is seeking to bring under dominant American influence the other two-thirds of the population.”

ARRIVAL. The admission and the release of the immigrant are under Federal control; where Federal authority ceases State responsibility begins. Massachusetts shows no realization of this responsibility. In Boston after the immigrant has passed inspection he is regarded as needing assistance and direction no more than cabin passengers. No official provision is made to bring together the newcomer and the relatives or friends whom he expects to meet. Although immigrants often come with incorrect addresses, no attempt is made to learn, even in the case of a young girl, whether the address on which she relies is really a correct

Irresponsible cabmen are employed by irresponsible immigrant bankers. In one case an immigrant having been sent by cab to an address which proved incorrect was left to shift for himself in the crowd that gathered around him. Exploitation of all sorts is easy, overcharges for tickets, baggage, food, for all sorts of services are universal.

HOUSING. To investigate the housing of immigrants was unnecessary, as Massachusetts has been making housing reports for many years. The condition is summarized as follows: "Wholly inadequate laws which are poorly enforced are the rule. Dark rooms, overcrowding, unsanitary conditions are found in most of the larger cities as well as in Massachusetts.” The danger both to health and to morals is obvious.


The man who knows nothing of either the language or the conditions of a country is absolutely at the mercy of exploiters. If he receives any advice it is from friends who have been here only a short time themselves. He is at no other time so much in need of intelligent and disinterested advice as when he first tries to get work. And yet he is entirely dependent on the private employment agent, whose interests often conflict with those both of the immigrant and of the community.

The Massachusetts law regulating licensed employment agencies is woefully inadequate; moreover, the immigrant frequently deals with agents who are unlicensed and, therefore, entirely irresponsible. He is sent to do jobs which do not exist or are not the kind they are represented to be; he is often overcharged when work is furnished him. Furthermore, the foreman in a mill or factory frequently charges the newly arrived immigrant $10.00–$25.00 for a job, and then, under threat of discharge, collects from him again and again. (p. 40). Two illustrative examples from among the many quoted must suffice. (PP. 43. 40).

Last June several Russians were offered by an employment agency, work in the woods as sawyers. They were given an address in Kineo, Maine; taken to the station and sent to Calumet, Michigan, where they were expected to work in the copper mines, whence they escaped with difficulty. These were but a few out of more than two hundred Russians and Poles sent to Calumet last summer by two Boston agencies. How many knew their destination cannot be said. (pp. 43-44).

A certain rubber factory in Massachusetts employs Lithuanians. For more than a year these men regularly paid a part of their wages to the foreman to keep their job. Finally nineteen of the men were persuaded to sign an affidavit to that effect. The affidavits were presented to the president of the corporation and within two weeks the nineteen men were discharged. (p. 40).

In view of such abuses, the Commission recommends that the Private Employment Agency law in Massachusetts should be brought up to the standard of the laws of other states; that the supervision of these offices be given to the Board of Labor and Industries, and that the state free employment agencies be provided with interpreters and otherwise equipped to handle immigrant labor. (p. 446).

Of the Immigrants who came to Massachusetts in the year 1911-12, more than 74-in the case of Poles and Lithuanians, at least 12-had been farm laborers. Many of these men, though they must begin by a job in the city or town, look forward to a return to the land and begin at once to save up for that purpose. For example, a Ruthenian farmer and his wife are now working in a Massachusetts cotton factory, buoyed up by the hope that they will be able to go back to Galicia and live on a farm. He could buy land much more cheaply in this country but he knows nothing of farm opportunities in Massachusetts. Yet immigrant farmers in this state are often successful and progressive; their labor makes the community more prosperous and the neighboring farms more valuable. They become permanent settlers, owners of property and contributors to the development of agriculture in their section.


Because a slow movement from the town to the land is going on, many people believe the problem is solving itself. But for everyone who succeeds there are many more who might do so if a little help were given. And the agricultural development of Massachusetts requires their labor. Much of the uncultivated land in the eastern part of the state could produce grapes under the painstaking cultivation of the Italian as profitably as lands in the western part have produced tobacco and onions, when owned by Polish farmers. But it is practically impossible for the immigrant to obtain reliable information concerning farm lands in Massachusetts. (p. 96).

As a first step, the Commonwealth should undertake a scientific "exploration" of the farm lands of the State. This information should be passed on, in his own language, to the immigrant who needs it, by some one in whom he has confidence and who can tell him what the State has learned about the character and value of the piece of land he thinks of buying; can explain to him the need and method of having his title to the property examined, and will scrutinize for him the contract he is asked to sign.

The Commission believes that this could be done with very little expense and with great value to the State, by a specially qualified person under the direction of the State Board of Immigration described below. (p. 96).

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"The whole responsibility for honest dealing under great temptation is placed on the immigrant banker. That he does not yield more frequently is perhaps the surprising thing.” The only protection given those who deposit or transmit money is the bond approved in character and amount by the bank commissioner. This averages only about $1000.00; in some cases it is as low as $500.00. No capital or reserve is required; there is no regulation of investments or loans; yet these banks, during the year 1912, sent abroad over $7,000,000. (p. 178).

The frequent results of such lack of control may be illustrated by a typical instance. Last June an Italian disappeared from Lawrence, leaving claims estimated at about $8000.00. His assets were worth perhaps $150.00, in addition he had given a personal bond for $2500.00, whose value was uncertain at the time of the investigation. (p. 184).

Beside efficient control of immigrant bankers, the Commission recommends especially that schools and other public agencies aid in spreading information about postal savings banks. In several towns the deposits made by immigrants in these banks in 1912 were estimated by the postmasters to be over 90% of the entire amounts received. In Lowell, on the other hand, only 6% of the total deposits were credited to foreigners, indicating that in this as in many other places, postal savings banks are little understood by them. (pp. 186-7).


It is frequently stated that with increase of immigrants comes increase of crime. The Massachusetts Commission finds no ground for this belief. On the contrary, it finds that the conclusion of the Federal Commission on Immigration holds in general for Massachusetts. "Such statistics as it has been possible to obtain indicate that immigrants are less prone to crime than are native Americans". (p. 100.). It further shows that of foreigners committed the proportion from English speaking countries is more than three times as great as from non-English speaking countries. (p. 101.) Moreover, the non-English speaking criminal is not always sure to get justice in court proceedings because of the incompetence and frequent corruptness of the interpreters. (p. 108.) The employment of official interpreters and of public defenders is advised in order to teach respect for the law. “The results of the immigrant's first direct contact with the law will do much to influence his future in America."

The number of immigrants who cannot speak English is rapidly increasing. In 1890 they formed 1/40 of the entire population of the state; in 1910 the proportion was twice as great. The evening schools are not flexible enough to meet the widely varying needs of these people; they attract but an insignificant fraction; 85,347 additional non-English speaking immigrants entered the State in 1912-13, but the increase in evening school enrollment was only 14541/44 of those who should have been enrolled.

The difficulties of the situation and suggestions for meeting them are discussed in nearly forty pages so rich in fact and suggestions as to defy any attempt to summarize. Recognizing that the methods of adult education have been little studied, the Commissioner advises that normal schools should make a special study of the subject. It also recommends that lectures in the various foreign languages shall be given in order to inform the immigrant about labor laws, sanitary regulations, and other things that he needs to know as soon as he reaches the country. Separate English classes for mothers, as well as for older men, are included among the important educational recommendations.


Attention is called to the unfortunate relation often existing between immigrant parents and their children. When no effort is made by the schools to reach the parents directly, they are forced to depend upon their children's interpretation of what is right or wrong, necessary or unnecessary in America. Intelligent persons are realizing the danger in this situation and finding in it an explanation of the fact that crime and delinquency are commoner among the “second generation” than among their parents. This reversal of the relationships of parent and child means an inevitable breaking down of parental control.

“For this reason we need very carefully worked out plans for teaching respect for the virtues that these immigrant parents possess. Proper emphasis should also be given to the contribution that Russia, Italy, Austria and other countries have made to the literature, art or political history of the United States:-while we educate the children along American lines, we must not destroy the traditions around which their whole family life is built."

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