Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Undocumented Greek Migrants

European ethnic groups in the U.S. have not been uniformly supportive of the 11 million (mostly Hispanic and Latino) illegal immigrants, since most of them arrived when more liberal immigration policies were in place. Greek Americans see their story as a narrative of legal migration. But is this entirely true? Alexander Kitroeff raised that question in his editorial "Greek-American History and Unauthorized Immigration" in The National Herald (Oct. 15, 2015, p. 15). He notes that if you scratch the surface below the official story, you will find evidence for Greeks arriving to the US illegally, primarily by jumping ship. This is well-known among the Greek community but rarely stated in public or in the official histories.

Over the summer, I spent some time at Temple University's Urban Archives that includes the records of the Nationalities Service Center (NSC), an NGO founded in 1923 to assist new immigrants in Philadelphia. Among the Greek papers, I found the very evidence alluded to by Kitroeff. It is a type-written report of a meeting that took place on June 20, 1942, called "Greek Seamen."

The NSC had a meeting with members of Philadelphia's Greek community to discuss the crisis of Greek asylum seeker in the ports of Philadelphia, Boston and New York. The NSC wanted to discuss the crisis and see what the Greek community was doing about it. At that point 200 Greeks had been interned at the port of New York, and another 110 at the port of Boston. The report presented solutions to the Greek refugee crisis, as well as a report on the causes of the defections. I reprint the first page above, courtesy of Special Collections, Temple University Libraries (Record Group 625, Box 58, Folder 41) and Kitroeff's (hard to find online) editorial below.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States