These Ellis Island documents reveal a surprising truth about Donald Trump's immigrant mother


Here’s what Donald Trump has to say about low-wage immigrants on his website: “The influx of foreign workers holds down salaries, keeps unemployment high… We need to control the admission of new low-earning workers.”

What Trump doesn’t say, however, is that his own mother would once have fit into that category. When Mary Anne Macleod, who later gave birth to The Donald, first emigrated to the U.S. from Scotland at age 18, she came with only $50 in her possession and a job as a domestic servant.

The new details about Macleod’s journey to the U.S. were brought to light by the Scottish newspaper The National this weekend, and are confirmed by public records from Ellis Island. They suggest that the story Trump has told about his mother in the past—that she came over to the U.S. on vacation and fell in love with Fred Trump, Donald’s real-estate magnate father—isn’t quite true.

Macleod was born in Tong—pronounced “tongue”—a small village on the remote Isle of Lewis, in northern Scotland. In the ’30s, the region was facing huge unemployment, and many young people left for America. Macleod followed three of her sisters who had left Lewis for New York, and later stayed at the Astoria home of one of them, Catherine Reid. According to The National, Reid left in 1920 after she scandalously had a child out of wedlock.

On May 2, 1930, Macleod’s ship left Glasgow, Scotland for the week-and-a-half journey across the Atlantic. She turned 18 years old the day before arriving in the Big Apple.

I pulled the records of Macleod’s arrival from the Liberty Ellis Foundation, which operates the current Ellis Island museum and maintains the archive of immigration records from the historic New York port of entry. (You can see the full records at the bottom of the post.)

There she is: The future Mrs. Trump arrived for the first time in America on May 11, 1930, on the steamship Transylvania. According to the records, she was not married, had never been to the U.S. before, and was carrying $50 (about $716 in today’s dollars). Her appearance was recorded as she made her way through the customs hall: fair hair, fair complexion, blue eyes, and five-feet-eight-inches tall.

She told Ellis Island officials that she was going to join her brother in Astoria, New York, intended to stay in the U.S. “permanently,” and wanted to become a U.S. citizen. Macleod’s profession was also recorded as “domestic,” which likely means a domestic servant.

According to the Ellis Island records, she went back to Scotland four years later in June 1934 and returned three months after that, when she was 22. She married Fred Trump in 1936.

Trump has previously said his mother only came to the U.S. “on holiday,” and didn’t intend to emigrate until she met her future husband. But the fact that the Ellis Island documents say she wanted to stay permanently suggests otherwise. His campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment about the records or The National‘s reporting in Scotland.

After Macleod became Mary Anne Macleod Trump, she gave birth to five children, including Trump himself in 1946. She became active in philanthropy, giving to charities and causes such as the Salvation Army, the Boy Scouts of America and the National Kidney Foundation of New York/ New Jersey. Macleod Trump died on August 7, 2000, at the age of 88.

So, would President Trump’s policies allow an immigrant like Macleod into the United States? Of course, the immigration system we have today is worlds away from the setup in 1930, which was much more laissez-faire for European immigrants, at least. But Trump has talked about preventing “low-earning” immigrants from entering the U.S., and it seems clear that Macleod would have fit into that category when she first arrived.

Macleod also benefited from the fact that she was from Scotland. In 1930, severe quota laws restricted migrants from southern and eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia. In some ways, Trump’s proposals almost recall that era—barring specific groups of immigrants like Muslims.

On a broader level, seeing Macleod’s journey from a girl in an impoverished Scottish town to the matriarch of a successful New York real estate family is inspiring. Trump is going back to Scotland next month for the opening of a new resort. So while he’s there, maybe he should think about his mom—and take another look at her immigration records—before he keeps badmouthing immigrants.

Click on the images below to see the full passenger manifest list for the S.S. Transylvania on Macleod’s arrival:

Update: We’ve updated this post to note that $50 in 1930 has about the same buying power as $716 in 2016 due to inflation.

Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.

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