Mr. Morgan to Mr. Frelinghuysen .
Mexico , January 12, 1885. (Received January 21).
Sir: Complying with the instructions contained in your No. 698, of the 20th of December last, I submit herewith a report upon the subject of the matriculation laws of Mexico in respect of their application to [Page 572] and effects upon foreigners. In doing so I have followed the suggestion contained in your dispatch in my manner of treating the question.
(1) “The provisions of the Mexican matriculation law.”
The law referred to consists of two decrees issued by President Juarez, the first from the city of Mexico, on the 16th of March, 1861, the second from the city of Chihuahua, on the 6th of December, 1866. The text and a translation of both decrees are annexed hereto.
The second decree reforms the first in several particulars, especially by permitting foreigners, although they have not been registered as such, to appear before the tribunals of the country, rotaries, &c. But the provisions of the first decree, in so far as they provide that foreigners who may wish to exercise rights as such shall cause themselves to be enrolled on the register of matriculation and to take out certificates thereof, were declared to remain in force. And to the first decree was added a most important clause, viz, that matriculation produces no retroactive effect. That is, if the fact which gave rise to a demand in behalf of a foreigner existed before he became matriculated, the foreign nationality of the claimant cannot be admitted.* * *
(2) “Whether applicable to transient sojourners, travelers, officers and crews of vessels, and the like, who have no purpose or opportunity of sojourn.”
I know no case where the decrees have been invoked against captains of vessels. It was not referred to in the correspondence between this legation and the department for foreign affairs in the case of Captain Metzer of the steamer Newbern, or in the case of Capt. George Caleb of the schooner Adriana, with both of which cases you are familiar. The decrees, however, are general in their scope, and make no exceptions in favor of any class of persons. They evidently, in the opinion of the Mexican Government, apply to travelers (and therefore to sojourners). They were invoked by anticipation, as you will remember, in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas B. Gartrell.*
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(3) “What rights as a foreigner are established by the fact of matriculation?”
None that I am aware of beyond those mentioned in the decrees to which I have referred, and the rights of their respective governments after their matriculation to have any intercession presented through diplomatic channels.
(4) “What rights are denied in the event of non-matriculation?”
The right to the official diplomatic intervention of their government in their behalf in case of need. For instance, if a citizen of the United States should be arrested for any cause in Mexico, no diplomatic intervention in his behalf would, under the decrees, be admitted, if he had not previously matriculated at the foreign office. A late example is the case of Thomas B. Monahan. At first the objection that he was not matriculated was not raised; but at last, when I demanded his immediate trial or release, I was informed that my official diplomatic intervention could not be entertained upon the ground that he was not matriculated. It is true that Monahan was subsequently released. How he was released has never been officially communicated to me. He informed me that the judge sent for him and said to him that “he had been honorably acquitted,” but that he had had no trial of any kind. He also stated to me that to his discharge it was added that should the superior [Page 573] court disapprove of the proceedings of the lower court he was to present himself before the tribunal again.
(5) “Whether the Mexican law denies the validity of any evidence of alien status save that presented by the certificate of matriculation. If not—
(6) “What evidence of citizenship may be presented to establish the fact of alienage?”
The want of a certificate of matriculation has been considered sufficient to deny the right of diplomatic intervention, and therefore it appears to me that the decrees, or rather the action of the authorities thereunder, denies the validity of any evidence of alien status other than matriculation, and that none other would be admitted to establish it. I have, however, never had occasion to test this, no case of the kind having ever occurred. You will have observed from the text of the decrees that even a certificate of matriculation is not available to the person in whose behalf it has been issued for any matter which occurred anterior to the date of the certificate of matriculation.
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(7) “A list of the cases in which, on proof of citizenship according to the laws of the United States, diplomatic intervention has been rejected because of non-matriculation.”
There are no such cases. The citizenship of the parties in whose behalf diplomatic intervention has been attempted has never been questioned. The Mexican Government, in such instances, has only considered it necessary to deny diplomatic intervention on the ground that the party in whose aid it was invoked had not previously, been matriculated.
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The records of this legation show that since the publication of the Mexican matriculation decrees two hundred and fifty-five citizens of the United States have been matriculated at the foreign office, and of these one hundred and twenty-four have been matriculate since the year 1880. This represents but a fraction of our citizens who are or who have been during the period stated, in this country. The decrees are municipal regulations, and few of our countrymen coming here know of their existence.
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I have never failed, when the opportunity presented itself, of explaining to our fellow-citizens who have called at the legation the Mexican contention upon this subject, and to advise them, in order to avoid any possible difficulty, to comply with the requirements of the decrees. This I have done, not because I have ever entertained the opinion that their right to the intervention of their Government depended upon a compliance on their part with the requirements of the decree in question, but simply as a means of preventing any possible discussion thereon.
The position in which citizens of the United States in Mexico may be placed if the contention of the Mexican Government be admitted is a painful and a difficult one. It would be, under certain circumstances, absolutely impossible for them to obtain, in their direst need, the diplomatic protection of their Government. For instance, suppose (as I have already indicated) one of them were to come into the country provided with a passport from the Department of State, and immediately upon his crossing the frontier he were to be taken possession of and confined in prison, charged with the commission of some offense, or mustered [Page 574] into the Army; the intervention of this legation would not be accepted in his behalf, because he had not matriculated as a foreigner. For you will have observed that the question of citizenship is not the one with which the Mexican Government concerns itself. It does not look beyond the fact of matriculation, and bases its refusal to admit diplomatic interference on the ground of non-matriculation alone. It is true that in certain instances of imprisonment and impressment into the Army this position has not been taken, but in others it has, notably in the cases of claims made by citizens of the United States, or their heirs, for damages arising from torts committed on them. * * * It is also true that instances have occurred when, notwithstanding the denial of the right of intervention, the intervention has been successful.
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I am, &c.,