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Liepāja’s Response – May 23, 1912

This is part of my series of interesting newspaper articles and snippets that I find in the old Latvian newspapers available through Periodika. Most of the articles I post are in some way related to migration, wars or other events that are of particular genealogical note.

Source: Liepājas Atbalss (Liepāja’s Response), May 23, 1912

Difficulties expected for immigrants to the United States. The American Senate has accepted a law which puts new obstacles in the way of immigration. The first rule to be aware of is that all immigrants will need to prove that they can read and write in one of the living languages of the world. Those who fail will not be admitted to the United States of America. Since approximately 10,000 illiterates have traveled to the United States every year in the past ten years, then it is clear, what this means for emigrants. The percentage of Russia’s Jews who cannot read is smaller than the percentage of Russia’s other illiterates. Poles, Lithuanians and Belarusians on the other hand, who have been leaving in droves in the past years, are most likely to suffer from this new law.

While there may have been worries about this law affecting immigration, it would not yet come to fruition – research shows that this bill was vetoed by President Taft in early 1913, shortly before he left office. An earlier attempt to introduce literacy tests for immigrants had also been vetoed by President Cleveland in 1897. However, such a law did eventually come to pass, when the Immigration Act of 1917 was passed, with Congress overriding President Wilson’s veto of the bill.

Latvian migrants are not mentioned in this article, this could be because literacy was very high in the Baltic provinces – over 80% were literate, compared to approximately 25% in the Russian Empire as a whole, according to the 1897 All-Russia Census. Also something interesting I’ve noticed when browsing through these census records for Latvia – if one member of a couple is recorded as illiterate, it has usually been the husband. Which seems unusual, since historically speaking, women were more likely to be illiterate. Interesting that it was different in Latvia!

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