Immigration Mis-representation

May 19th, 2008, by Kent Larsen

This week I pulled source articles from the New York Times database and found an interesting difficulty that the LDS Church’s immigration agents faced in 1890. US Immigration authorities threatened to deny entrance to Mormon immigrants that year, as a series of 6 articles in the New York Times demonstrates.

Apparently the worry arose over fears that the immigrants had been induced to come to the U.S. with promises of economic incentives — jobs or other payments — when they arrived. Under the U.S. Contract Labor Law, immigrants could not be induced in this way to come to the U.S.

In the case of Mormon immigration, I assume that the use of the Perpetual Immigration Fund could have been seen as a violation of this law. But I also don’t know if the fund was still used by Mormon immigrants in 1890.

That year immigration authorities threatened to hold up immigrants, but never did so. President George Q. Cannon of the LDS Church’s First Presidency responded and met with the relevant immigration authorities, apparently while here in New York City for at least part of that year.

The articles that year can be found at:

There is a little more research to do on this issue. And it is certainly possible that someone else has already looked at this issue. Still, its an interesting event, and one heavily connected to New York’s role as the principle port of immigration for Mormon immigrants for the latter half of the 19th century.

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2 Responses to “Immigration Mis-representation”

  1. Mark E. Butler Says:

    I tried to find an original source for the Edmunds-Tucker Act–but Lexis wouldn’t give me access to the Statutes at Large, and I couldn’t find any other free database. I did find, however, a blog that quotes the full text of the Act. So with the caveat that I don’t know if that blog got it right, here’s the full text of section 15 of that act:

    SEC. 15. That all laws of the legislative assembly of the Territory of Utah, or of the so called government of the State of Deseret creating, organizing, amending, or continuing the corporation or association called the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company are hereby disapproved and annulled; and the said corporation, in so far as it may now have, or pretend to have, any legal existence, is hereby dissolved; and it shall not be lawful for the legislative assembly of the Territory of Utah to create, organize, or in any manner recognize any such corporation or association, or to pass any law for the purpose of or operating to accomplish the bringing of persons into the said Territory for any purpose whatsoever.

    So, the short answer is that the Perpetual Emigration Fund (as it was popularly known) had ceased any legal existence in 1887, and no immigration could have been funded legally by the PEF in 1890.

    There is an interesting difference between the immigration laws then and now. Back then you couldn’t come if you had an offer of employment. Now one of the two main pathways to legal resident status is employer-sponsorship. But, the Times had its facts straight on the contract labor law.

  2. admin Says:

    Thanks, Mark. That explains at least part of this issue. It also makes me doubt that whatever contract labor prohibition existed in immigration law could have been added because of Mormon immigration practices.

    The articles I referenced imply that the provision existed to protect immigrants from unsavory employers, who paid the way of the immigrants and then abused them when they arrived in the U.S.

    Your citation of the Edmunds-Tucker act also shows one of the reasons why immigration dried up. But it is also clear that it didn’t dry up immediately – but continued into the 1890s.

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