|To better understand the process that created Lists of Aliens Held for Special
Inquiry (Board of Special Inquiry, or BSI), follow the case of one Roumanian Jewish immigrant and his
family who were held for a hearing. The case of Hocher Bodner demonstrates that the BSI list found
today on New York passenger list microfilm since 1903 served as an index to additional records.
Unfortunately, those additional records for the vast majority of immigrants who had BSI hearings were
destroyed long ago. Hocher Bodner's records survive, and can help us understand the experience of our
own immigrant ancestors by showing how to "read" a BSI list.
The Bodner family arrived at New York on September 11, 1906 aboard the SS Nieuw Amsterdam.
|1. The Primary Immigrant Inspector (in the Great Hall) "holds" the immigrant for Secondary Inspection (a BSI hearing).|
|Immigrant Inspectors usually annotated the manifest to show that the immigrant was referred for a hearing. Typical annotations signalling the hold are discussed on the page for Annotations in the Left Margin. The Inspector held any immigrant whom he suspected might fall into any one of the "excluded classes" barred from admission by U.S. immigration law. He did not have time to investigate--his job was to keep the line moving. Three Inspectors sitting on a BSI would question the immigrant further and decide whether to admit the immigrant or not. Later, the annotation might be "stamped" to show the outcome of the hearing.|
|The most common exclusion was "LPC" or "Likely Public Charge," taken from the section of law which excludes anyone who might become a burden on the public. Many LPC cases were coupled with Medical Certificates, because it was a medical condition or physical disability which caused officials to think the immigrant would not be able to earn their own living. U.S. Public Health Service officials issued the Medical Certificates during medical inspection. The doctors saw the immigrant first, so if a certificate was issued it would be known to the Immigrant Inspector who saw the arriving passenger next. Sometimes, the fact that an immigrant was held on the basis of a Medical Certificate would also be annotated on the passenger list.|
|2. Hocher Bodner and his family are listed on a List of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry, showing the cause of exclusion.|
|Like other passengers sent for a hearing, the Bodners waited while a clerk entered preliminary information on the List of Aliens Held. Most lists begin, at far left, with the age and sex of the immigrant (i.e., 50 m, for a 50 year-old male). The next number, or "Index Number," is the number on the BSI list (as opposed to the passenger's number on the main passenger list).
The following column listed the name of the immigrant held. Often an entire family will appear on one line, because only one member of the family has been ordered to a hearing. Hocher Bodner was held, and so the Name column on this record reads "Bodner, Hocher wf and 2ch" (wife and 2 children). His family is included because they are dependent upon him. In contrast, if two adult brothers traveled together and only one were held, the other, admitted independently, would not appear.
After the name come two columns which connect the immigrant to his passenger list record. The "Group" number is what we consider a page number. The number ("No.") is the passenger list line number within that page. Finally, the "No." of persons shows how many people would be held in detention--at the expense of the steamship company--on account of the one immigrant's detention. In Hocher's case, the number is "4" (himself, his wife, and two children).
|The List of Aliens Held also shows the cause of exclusion under the heading "Cause," and gives the name of the Immigrant Inspector who decided the immigrant should have a hearing. In Hocher Bodner's case, the cause was a Medical Certificate. Click here to see a table listing abbreviations and explanations of other causes.|
|3. Actions of the Board of Special Inquiry|
|Initial Hearing. Most immigrants appeared at a brief hearing and were admitted after explaining their sitution or producing a recent letter from a friend or relative at their destination. Others might not have the proof with them, so they would wait until someone came to testify in their behalf or sent a telegram. In the case of sick immigrants, a doctor might appear and testify as to whether the immigrant's ailment was or was not curable (if incurable, the immigrant was summarily excluded and sent back). If the Board could not decide the case immediately, the case would be continued until later re-opened in a rehearing.
Reference to the initial hearing will be found at either the left or right under the heading "Actions of the Board of Special Inquiry." At left are three columns for immigrants found excludable and deportable. At right are three columns for immigrants admitted by the Board. Each has the same three columns--Date, Page, and Secretary. These three data elements are the date of the hearing, the initials of the recording stenographer/secretary, and the page number in the stenographer's notebook where a transcript of the hearing would be found (if it had not been destroyed years later).
|Hocher Bodner was initially excluded and ordered deported by the Board. The List of Aliens Held for BSI records these facts in tiny boxes in the left-side columns under "Actions of the Board of Special Inquiry" (shown at right). They reveal his hearing occurred on September 13, ("9/13") 1906, and a transcript of the hearing was recorded on page 199 of the stenographer's notebook of "W." If you click the link at right to view the transcript of that hearing, you will see the stenographer was named "Wallace," and he noted "W-199" at the top of the proceedings.|
|Later (sometimes later the same day), in a rehearing (see more on rehearings, below), the new evidence would be produced, or the doctor would certify the immigrant as cured, and the Board would admit the immigrant. The transcripts of most rehearings recorded the testimony of friends or relatives who came to collect the immigrant, or included letters or telegrams from relatives too far away to appear. Some researchers wonder why immigrants spent days in detention waiting for hearings, or more accurately, rehearings. Hocher Bodner's case illustrates that in most cases the wait was worthwhile.|
|While the Bodners waited, friends, relatives, and immigration officials worked to collect the information needed to decide his case. Someone at Ellis Island (probably an HIAS representative) sent a telegram to the Bodner's cousins in St. Paul, Minnesota. The cousins, Harry Chifer and David Moskovich, then turned to their Rabbi, Isaac Rypins, who on September 17th sent a letter to Ellis Island. The letter promised the cousins would care for Hocher [whom he referred to as Asher] Bodner and his family.|
|4. Departmental and Executive Orders--Deportation|
|Appeal (in rare cases). Perhaps Hocher was nervous, or it may be he needed to delay his deportation while his cousins made arrangements, because on September 18th Hocher Bodner filed a formal appeal, asking that the BSI decision to deport him be overturned. Someone from HIAS or another immigrant aid society probably helped him draft the appeal document. Hocher's appeal of the Board decision is the reason his records survive. Only appeal cases are preserved at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The BSI excluded and ordered the deportation of only comparatively few immigrants who had BSI hearings. And of those denied admission, only a small fraction of them appealed the decision. Thus BSI records survive for only a very small fraction of immigrants, and chances are very slim such records survive for your immigrant.|
|When Hocher appealed, officials annotated the BSI list with a stamp--shown at right-- under the heading "Departmental and Executive Orders." The stamp clearly indicates appeal activity which involved the Department in Washington, D.C. Unfortunatly, information in this column has NOT been found to be a reliable indicator of the existence of additional records. Some records with information in this column have no additional file, and some with additional files have no information in this column.|
|Immigrants deported by the BSI, or ordered deported after an appeal, should have the ship name and date of their deportation. In some cases, the columns contain only the date of deportation and the steamship company responsible.|
|Transmission of Appeal. The Port Commissioner at Ellis Island, Robert Watchorn, forwarded Bodner's appeal to the Commissioner-General of Immigration in Washington, D.C. on September 19. Watchorn did not necessarily object to the admission of the Bodner family. He was more concerned with the government's need for assurances that immigrants excluded on LPC charges would not eventually become public charges.|
|Investigation. In Washington, officials decided on September 20 to obtain the cousins' testimony, if possible. They sent word to Immigrant Inspector W.D. Morse in Minneapolis to investigate the cousins in St. Paul, and take their testimony. On September 22, Inspector Morse visited both Harry Chifer (or Sheffer) and Mrs. Annie (or Ainnie) Moskovich. Both swore to support the Bodners should they fall into distress.|
|Rehearing. Hocher Bodner's case reopened in a rehearing to hear new evidence, as indicated in the "Rehearing" columns under the "Actions of the Board of Special Inquiry" section of the List of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry. As in the example from the initial hearing, above, the column boxes hold references to the hearing date, recording secretary, and page number in the stenographer's notebook. Hocher's rehearing was held September 26 ("9/26"), and the transcript would be on page 184 of "DD's" notebook (if the notebook had not been destroyed years later)|
|A transcript of the rehearing shows the recording secretary was Inspector Downing ("DD"). During the hearing the BSI reviewed Inspector Morse's report and the testimony of Bodner's cousins (referred to as exhibit A in the transcript). And they asked Hocher if he had anything further to add. Then, they voted again to exclude and deport Hocher Bodner and family. The board probably bore no ill-will toward the Bodners personally. Rather, they were concerned with the fact that many immigrants fell into distress and their relatives, who earlier promised to help, later refused to do so. Local politicians criticized Ellis Island for admitting too many immigrants who later became public charges, and the Board was responding to those complaints.|
|Again, New York Port Commissioner Watchorn did not wish to make a "test case" of Hocher Bodner. He transmitted the transcript of the second BSI hearing to Washington and continued to recommend that Hocher Bodner and family be admitted. He recommended the "appeal be sustained," meaning he recommended the Department of Commerce and Labor uphold (agree with) Bodner's appeal. As in all the appeal documents, he notes the next sailing of a ship belonging to the steamship line responsible for the return of the Bodners.|
|In Washington, Acting Commissioner-General of Immigration Frank Larned agreed with Watchorn. In a memorandum for the Secretary of Commerce and Labor, Larned too recommended the appeal be sustained.|
|Decision on Appeal (sustained or not sustained). In the Office of the Secretary of Commerce and Labor, a formal decision would usually be written and signed. In Hocher Bodner's case, the decision document does not appear in his file. But a telegram sent to Ellis Island transmitting Secretary Metcalf's decision, dated September 28, 1906 does survive.|
|Execution of Decision (Admitted or Deported). As a result of Hocher's appeal being sustained by the Department, the Bodners were finally admitted on September 29, 1906, eighteen days after their arrival at Ellis Island. Following their release, officials at Ellis Island completed a form reporting the "execution of decision on appeal" and later sent the form to Washington. Thus closed the case of Hocher Bodner and family.|
|5. Bookeeping||Columns at the far right of the BSI list are entitled "Meals," and show the number of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners served to detainees during their stay. After holding the Bodners for eighteen days in detention, the Bodner's BSI list record shows the Government would be charging the steamship line for 72 breakfasts, 76 lunches, and 72 dinners. After paying such a bill, the steamship company might exercise even closer scrutiny over ticket sales to immigrants with potential LPC issues.|
The only thing special about Hocher Bodner and his family is that their immigration case continued to the point of appeal, thus leaving us a detailed record of Board of Special Inquiry proceedings. Every day during the era 1892-1924, ten percent or more of arriving immigrants were sent to wait for a BSI hearing. Their names appear in page after page of Lists of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry. But almost all of them were admitted to America after one hearing and either a few hours' or one night's stay at Ellis Island or any other U.S. immigration station. The same basic procedure followed in the Bodner's case applied to every other immigrant who faced BSI hearings, though few cases were as long as protracted as the Bodner's.
Having read the documents in Hocher Bodner's case, and seen the clues a BSI list gives to those documents, researchers should re-read other BSI lists with a new eye. The scribbles under "Actions of the Board of Special Inquiry" should take on new meaning, and suggest the activities behind the summary record that survives on New York passenger list microfilm today.