This is the grim story of the British and Irish immigrants who came to America during the middle of the nineteenth century. Much the largest contingent was Irish, and it was above all the departure of the Irish to America, diseased, half-starved, bewildered, cheated and cheating, which made the emigrant way across the Atlantic as degrading as the convict route to the South Seas, and almost as cruel as the Middle Passage of the slave ships.
Confronting the immigrants at every turn were inescapable horrors. Ship owners packed their holds like slavers; brokers misrepresented and overcharged; runners stole when they couldn't cheat; customs officials took bribes to ignore overcrowding. And when the immigrants arrived the swindling didn't stop. They were fleeced by lodging-house keepers, separated from their possessions, and sold fraudulent railroad or canal boat tickets--in short, the whole, cruel apparatus of immigration was turned against them.