Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, With the Annual Message of the President Transmitted to Congress December 3, 1901
Mr. Adee to Mr. Clayton.
Washington , August 1, 1901 .
Sir: Referring to your dispatch No. 998, of June 27 last, on the subject of the arrest and imprisonment in Mexico of American citizens employed as train hands on Mexican railroads, I inclose herewith for your information a copy of a letter from the El Paso, Tex., Chamber of Commerce, expressing the chamber’s cordial recognition and hearty appreciation of your efforts to secure accurate information in the matter, and submitting certain observations with the view of facilitating further inquiry in the matter.
I am, etc.,
Chamber of Commerce of El Paso, Tex., to Mr. Hay.
Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your letter of July 16, 1901, containing the substance of the report of Ambassador Clayton concerning Mexican judicial procedure in respect to accidents occurring upon railway lines in Mexico, and also setting forth at some length your own views and conclusions with regard to this matter.
I am instructed by the board of directors to express to you, on behalf of the El Paso Chamber of Commerce, cordial recognition and hearty appreciation of the interest that you have taken in this question and the efforts that have been made by Ambassador Clayton, under your instructions, to secure accurate information as to the grounds for complaint by American railway employees in Mexico.[Page 414]
The El Paso Chamber of Commerce respectfully proffers its cooperation and aid in securing further data, and will institute specific inquiry for the purpose of verifying or supplementing the statistics and information contained in your letter.
With a view to facilitating such further inquiry and pursuit of the facts, we beg to submit the following observations, suggested by your letter of July 16:
- It is conceded that some of the alleged cases of injustice can be traced to sensational or highly exaggerated newspaper accounts of unimportant incidents, or even to pure invention without any basis of fact.
- We respectfully submit that the statements of the railway companies in Mexico are not to be taken as conclusive evidence, for two reasons: (1) The railway companies are interested parties, it being to their advantage pecuniarily that the present procedure in Mexico, which throws the burden of liability upon the employee, should be maintained. (2) Railway companies in Mexico evidently do not make it the duty of their officials to secure and preserve records of such imprisonment of their employees. It is rather to the interest of the railway companies that they should remain officially ignorant of matters an official knowledge of which might imply obligation to assist employees in distress or might embarrass the companies in their efforts to secure fresh American employees to replace those who had suffered injustice in discharge of the duties incident to railway service in Mexico.
- Railway companies may well “disclaim all ground of complaint touching the treatment of their employees by the Mexican judicial authorities,” as noted in your letter, since the Mexican procedure relieves the company of responsibility for accident and throws the responsibility upon the employee.
- It is noted in your letter that the answers of the railway companies to Mr. Clayton’s inquiries are “not explicit as to the time of detention.” We respectfully submit that this is a vital point. It is a fundamental principle of our law that justice shall be not only sure, but speedy. It is highly important to know how many days, or weeks, or months the imprisoned American citizen must spend in the Mexican jail, enduring the conditions and subsisting upon the food characteristic of Mexican jails; among people of strange race and tongue, through whom he is powerless to send any message that might bring to his relief the mighty forces of the American State. You have noted the “singularly large showing” of American railway employees imprisoned in the State Sonora during the past year, with no account rendered as to the eventual disposition of their cases, and with no assurance that there are not to-day American citizens dragging out miserable lives in unjust imprisonment in some of the jails of Sonora.
- No one doubts that the American Government, through its State Department and its embassy to Mexico, purposes to employ all means deemed proper, practicable, and effective to protect the rights of American citizens in Mexico. But, as noted in your letter, “not all such arrests are brought to its notice.” It is this fact which calls for further action by the American Government, to the end that every American citizen employed in Mexico shall be assured of opportunity to bring any case of alleged injustice to the attention of the American embassy. The fact is significant that, as noted in your letter, “during Mr. Clayton’s incumbency of over four years but twelve complaints of this character have been under consideration.” It is commonly believed in this part of the United States that accidents leading to such imprisonment in Mexico are much more frequent than is indicated by the statistics received by Mr. Clayton from the railway companies. The fact that, as noted by you, of the thirty-two reported cases of arrest and imprisonment of American railway employees in Mexico during the past year, eight cases are reported in connection with 268 miles of railway in Sonora, leaving but twenty-four cases reported for over 7,000 miles of railway throughout the rest of Mexico, and the further fact that out of a total of sixty-two railway employees in train service in Sonora, seventeen were arrested and imprisoned in one year, while but thirty-six arrests are reported for the remaining four thousand employees throughout Mexico—these facts are, if not conclusive proof of the unreliability of the statistics, significant enough to warrant and urge further inquiry.
We are gratified to note your conclusion, as stated in your letter, that “there remain enough cases of protracted imprisonment, especially when the accused is held fox trial, to warrant the repeated protests of this Government against the delays of Mexican justice.” We are equally gratified to note the vigor and persistency of the American State Department in pressing upon the Mexican Government the propriety and advisability, from every point of view except that of the pecuniary interests of the railway companies, of amending the Mexican law so as to bring Mexican procedure into conformity with that of the United States and other nations with respect to the incidence of responsibility for accidents in railway service.
We beg to suggest that more complete, accurate, and reliable information can be secured through the organizations of railway employees than through the reports of [Page 415] Mexican railway companies or Mexican officials regarding cases of alleged unjust imprisonment of American railway employees in Mexico. To invite reports through this suggested channel would probably result in bringing a large number of cases of alleged unjust imprisonment before the State Department. In many of these cases doubtless the imprisoned American would be accorded substantial justice by the Mexican authorities without appeal to his Government. But the very fact that the prisoner is assured of quick and easy appeal to his Government will be the best possible safeguard against injustice, and the strongest possible guaranty of a speedy trial and disposition of his case. Moreover, if but one American citizen out of a hundred thus arrested were by this means protected against prolonged imprisonment or unjust sentence, the personal right to life and liberty guaranteed by the American Constitution to every American citizen fully establishes the obligation of the United States Government to secure to this individual citizen both the protection of the American Government and the opportunity to present his appeal for such protection.
I have, etc.,