An Irish Woman’s Secret: The Case of a Vulnerable, Young Irish Woman

By: Kelsey DiDomenico

Case File: 54833/119

Immigrant: Annie Costello

The story at a glance…

Annie Costello came to the United States from Ireland on August 27, 1919. As a young, white, and Irish woman, she left her homeland due to an unexpected pregnancy and a desire for a new beginning. One of her sisters funded her trip to America, where she would live with her sister Julia and Julia’s husband, who lived in Jersey City. Costello tried to keep her pregnancy a secret to gain entry to the United States without issue, since she had a high chance of being charged as “Likely to become a Public Charge” due to her pregnancy and status as a single woman. She had little money with her and picked up a job working at a hospital, while later becoming a typewriter.

The secret of Costello’s pregnancy was not kept for long as she had her baby a few months after her arrival. Unfortunately, her baby passed away, and Costello faced accusations that she had received public relief while giving birth at the hospital. However, she claimed to have paid all the hospital fees related to her pregnancy herself. From there, the hospital reported her and eventually an investigator was assigned to handle her case. He investigated her family and reported their unwillingness to cooperate in the case. Annie Costello’s initial story of her arriving to the United States became muddled, with Annie, Julia, and their aunt giving different statements. The investigator ultimately issued a warrant for Costello and wanted her charged as a public charge.

The investigation continued with a medical examination. Costello passed the examination, with the medical examiner specifically noting her good health and good spirits. After being brought to Ellis Island, a Board of Special Inquiry there interviewed Annie Costello and had a completely different interview. Annie admitted that she had lied about her pregnancy at first, mainly since she was afraid at the time. As a young female travelling alone, Annie had no one to rely on or to help her prepare for her journey through Ellis Island. To keep herself from going back to Ireland, it meant having to lie about her pregnancy.

Furthermore, Costello claimed to have been raped by the son of the homeowner she worked for as a domestic while still in Ireland. Undoubtedly this story swayed officials, who likely took sympathy on Costello. She had yet to understand the severity of what it meant to be a public charge. She did not know she had to stay in the country for five years and cause absolutely no trouble. Her pregnancy was considered trouble because it meant that, not only did she have to support herself, but a child with no support of a husband. It did not matter to the government that she was staying with family, because the government wanted her to prove she could support herself on her own in order to not be considered a public charge.

After the second portion of her investigation, the second investigator asked for the removal of Annie Costello’s warrant. He believed she does not fit the criteria of a public charge. He summarized her case in her favor by not mentioning her and her family’s lies from the first investigation, nor does he mention that she lied to gain entry to the country. He talks about how she lived her life after her arrival and how she had hoped to continue to live in the country. With her warrant dismissed, Annie Costello got the opportunity to continue to live her life in America.

The Release of Annie Costello
This document, written by the second investigator, asks for Annie Costello’s warrant to be disregarded.

This document shows the second investigator’s reasons for requesting Costello’s warrant to be disregarded. In the statement, he mentions his observations with Costello. The first investigation that showed her avoiding questions and blatantly lying to get into the country are conveniently omitted from the above statement.

This document opens many conversations regarding the case. By no means is Annie Costello a con woman, but she did lie about her intentions for wanting to immigrate to the United States. The way the investigator omitted these details can be interpreted as a favor that officials were willing to bestow upon her. During this time, women had an incredibly hard time entering the country. Unless accompanied or met at the gates by their husband or immediate family member (and for many immigrant women specifically from Asia, their soon-to-be husbands), women had a rough time entering the country. Single women fit the criteria of “Likely to become a Public Charge” because the government did not see them fit to enter the country and take care of themselves without a husband.

Also, Costello’s claim that she was raped in Ireland provided sympathy from investigators. However, Costello may have lied about a consensual relationship, since if the sex resulting in pregnancy was consensual, then officials were far more likely to see her as an “immoral” woman and would not have requested to remove her warrant.

The history of pregnant single women immigrating to the United States does not hold many successful stories, which is why Annie Costello’s story shows an interesting twist. Not only did Annie Costello come to the country single, but pregnant with child. Even more, the pregnancy was withheld for a long enough time to allow Annie entrance to the country. However, she still managed to stay and continue her life in the United States.

The Significance of Annie Costello

Annie Costello’s case will continue to raise alarming issues regarding how her case was handled. Her race and gender played a significant part in allowing her freedom from being charged as a public charge. While Annie Costello had trouble with the United States government for a moment, there are many other women who had much different and more difficult tales of immigrating to the United States. Many families sent their daughters to the United States to work as housekeepers, only to have them be abused by the owners of the home. Some women, like Annie Costello, wanted to leave their home country in hopes of new beginnings from the violence they suffered back home. Unlike Annie, depending on their race, some women also had a higher chance of being sent back to their country of origin.

Today’s immigration issues deal with pregnant women coming to the United States, despite being undocumented, in hopes of giving a better life to their unborn child. A child born in the country automatically gains citizenship, and a common misconception is that the mother will be allowed to stay and raise them. In reality, undocumented mothers of citizens are often deported and separated from their children. Had Annie Costello’s baby survived, she would have likely been deported due to being a single mother, therefore more “Like to become a Public Charge”.

Questions for future consideration

1) How would Annie Costello’s case fare out in modern immigration standards? Would her treatment different, specifically in regard to her entrance to the country?

2) In your opinion, did Annie Costello deserve her warrant in the first place?