Across The Atlantic

On October 26, 1944, at a sitting of the Council of Government, it transpired that at that time most Maltese had expressed their desire to emigrate to the U.S.A. than to the colonies and Dominions of the British Empire and Commonwealth. During the first twenty years of the twentieth the U.S.A. received the bulk of Maltese emigrants and even before the outbreak War there were Maltese groupings in New York, Detroit and San Francisco. A few had even ventured as far south as Louisiana. Soon after the signing of the Armistice in 1918 millions of Europeans abandoned their old continent for the promised lands of North and South America. The Maltese preferred the U.S.A. and Canada, though attempts at obtaining a foothold in Brazil and Argentina were made but without any serious success. (1)

In the first four months of 1920 more than three thousand Maltese had applied for passports stating that their destination was the U.S.A. At that time the only real prerequisites were good health and clean conduct and if the applicants had enough money to pay their fare, then there was no great obstacle barring their entry into the U.S.A. Problems were created in 1921 when the American Congress, under pressure from organised anti-immigration lobbies, put a check on the free entry of aliens. On May 19, President Warren G. Harding, approved the First Quota Law, also known as the Provisional Immigration Measure, which limited the number of immigrants to 3% of the total of foreign born persons permanently settled in the U.S.A. in 1910. Since the Maltese population in the U.S.A. prior 1910 was miniscule, the flow of emigration from Malta to the U.S.A. was reduced to a trickle. (2)

The section of the population that was hardest hit by President Harding's measure was made of those wives and young dependents whose husbands and parents were already in the U.S.A. and who were anxiously waiting to join them. Eight years after the First Quota Law the Great Depression hit the U.S.A. and throughout the thirties few wished to enter a country where the unemployed numbered in their millions. However, by 1944, the Great Depression had been beaten and the victory over Germany and Japan gave a strong impetus to the American economy. Once the hostilities were over America opened her doors and great waves of immigrants were set in motion.

In so far as the Maltese were concerned they had the added advantage that their heroic contribution to the Allied victory was recognised by no less a person than the president of the U.S.A., Franklin D. Roosevelt. The president visited Malta on December 8, 1943, and he brought with him a historic scroll from the people of the U.S.A. in which he saluted the brave defenders of the Island in the cause of freedom, justice and decency. In 1950 the U.S. Government agreed to consider Malta as a European country with a serious problem due to over-population. (3)

Source: The Safety Valve (1997), author Fr Lawrence E. Attard, Publishers Enterprises Group (PEG) Ltd, ISBN 99909-0-081-7

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