National Geographic : 1955 Nov
The National Geographic Magazine who may have contracted a disease to come down with it. Not so likely on a plane. Thus, in the "hold" rooms at Idlewild, incoming pas sengers are closely questioned by a Quaran tine officer of the Public Health Service to learn if they have visited parts of the world known to be suffering from epidemics. From the Public Health hold rooms passen gers in general go directly into the Immigra tion waiting rooms. From there they are guided, in orderly flow, into nine inspection rooms, and from them into the Customs wait ing room. American citizens are examined separately, since their inspection takes less time. Whether present-day immigrants come by air or surface ship, their lot is rendered much easier by the voluntary agencies, such as Trav elers Aid, National Catholic Welfare Con ference, National Lutheran Council, United HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) Serv ice, and Church World Service. In earlier days, unwary immigrants were sometimes exploited. A very green one gave a "runner" $97 to buy him a ticket for Kansas City and start him on his journey. The runner pocketed the money, put the victim aboard the Third Avenue Elevated (fare at the time: 5 ), and told him to ask the conductor to let him off at Kansas City. Voluntary Agencies Guide Strangers Today the vigilance of authorities and the activities of voluntary agencies help to pre vent such exploitation. When an ICEM chartered aircraft brings a group of refugees and other migrants into Idlewild, representatives of the voluntary agencies meet them and complete their travel arrangements; then they accompany them to the "well" near the stationmaster's office at Pennsylvania Station, whence they are sent off to all parts of the country. Welfare officials also comfort the confused and bewildered, take the place of relatives who cannot get to New York, and telegraph rela tives for money for those who lack it. They fill in forms, prepare documents and petitions, and sit in on exclusion and other hearings. One welfare worker told me his office han dles 100 cases a day, acting as first friend of the foreign-born new arrival. The most striking single fact I discovered about present-day immigrants is the improve ment they reveal in living conditions and edu cational standards in their homelands. "When I came over from Italy in 1910," a veteran news photographer told me, "95 percent of my fellow immigrants couldn't read. Today the proportions are reversed. Now and then an old lady comes who can't read, but the young people have had educational ad vantages unknown half a century ago." Millions of Europeans were driven from their homes by the Hitler regime in Germany, by the upheavals of World War II, and the spread of communism. Among those who have been welcomed to this country are a high percentage of professionals, technicians, artists, craftsmen, and other well-qualified people, many of them prominent and success ful in their native lands. From Politician to Night Watchman Not all have found financial success here, though many have. As I crossed the campus of an American college one evening in com pany with its president, he nodded to a poorly dressed man in middle life. "He was in the Cabinet of a country now behind the Iron Curtain," the educator told me. "He's our night watchman and is work ing to put his son through college." We find them everywhere-former lawyers, judges, diplomats, artists, theater managers, professors, and army and navy officers-happy to accept jobs as doormen, dishwashers, and elevator operators. "I am proud to be a laborer in the United States," said a former European statesman who was discovered sorting clothes in a Chi cago laundry. One young man, who had fought the Com munist regime as a guerrilla, had to work as a street cleaner in an Illinois city before he could find a position in Washington, D. C., as a translator. But many finally hit upon work in line with their training-teaching in universities, as specialists in the Library of Congress and other Federal agencies, or as translators in the Department of State. Some immigrants risk their lives to get to the United States. Newspapers tell of escapes from concentration camps and from behind the Iron Curtain, of perilous border cross ings, of encounters with vicious dogs, land mines, and electrically charged barbed wire. Two Albanian brothers, now in this coun try, seized a Communist motorboat. The cap tain and some soldiers on board were per suaded to drink heavily drugged wine.