Open any newspaper today and you’ll see that we still have problems with immigration law. But in 1910, when immigrants came through Ellis Island, the problems were of a different sort. People were turned away, and families were even separated, when someone was even suspected of carrying a disease, or being an undesirable person who might become a burdon to the state.
This article gives several examples of people wrongfully turned away, people of status being given preferential treatment, and legal loopholes used to deport immigrants even after they’ve been admitted to the country and lived here more than three years (the window of time during which the government could legally deport someone). Here is one such story:
Four years ago a lawyer’s clerk came over here, leaving behind him a not very savory reputation. In this country, too, he did not distinguish himself, and when word came across the water as to his past career then the authorities were glad to fall upon him and arrange for his deportation.
How did they do it, you ask, seeing that the three-year limit had been well passed? By this ingenious device.
It seems that once upon a time, when prosperity beamed, he had given way to a natural desire to look on the scenic beauties of Niagara. Not only that, but when there he took a carriage, the better to see the country side.
And in that carriage he crossed the bridge and spent about ten minutes in Canada. At this time he had been in America two years and ten months.
So when the authorities learned that the man was an undesirable citizen they pointed out that his residence in this country dated not from the time he landed at New York, but from the moment when he drove into it over the bridge after his ten-minute trip through Canada. They said he had left the United States and made a re-entry, and the fact that all this was done in the course of an hour’s drive did not alter the validity of their claim.
TRAGEDIES OF OUR INEXORABLE IMMIGRATION LAWS: How They Sunder Families and Wreck Hard-Saved Fortunes — A False Cablegram from Anybody Will Detain a Traveler (PDF)
From June 12, 1910
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