354.116 M 82/22

The Minister in Switzerland ( Gibson ) to the Secretary of State

No. 166

Sir: During the past few years this Legation has frequently been called upon to deal with the cases of American Mormon missionaries [Page 259] resident in Switzerland, who are refused renewals of residence permits by the cantonal authorities.

These cases are usually referred to rather loosely as “deportations” or “expulsions” and I venture to point out at once the inaccuracy of this description. The residence of foreigners in Switzerland is a matter regulated by the cantons and is subject to residence permits granted for short periods. The cantonal authorities have complete power to grant or withhold renewals of these residence permits and while the Federal Government is usually prepared to use its good offices in seeing that justice is done to foreigners, it cannot, constitutionally, enforce its views upon the cantonal authorities.

The customary procedure is for the cantonal authorities to send a notice to the individual concerned informing him that his residence permit will expire at some future date, usually some weeks or months in advance and that the canton does not see its way to granting an extension. The foreigner is informed that he will be expected to leave the canton or the Confederation on or before the date of the expiration of his existing permit. The procedure in this matter is entirely different from that of deportations which are effected by the police and with much less consideration of the individual’s convenience and with less warning. I have entered into this rather detailed explanation of the question in the belief that it has a considerable importance in considering the rights of the American citizens who frequently appeal to the Legation for protection and assistance.

In the past it has been the practice of the Legation to deal with each case as it arose, to endeavor to secure the statement of the reasons for the action taken by the cantonal authorities and frequently to secure an extension of the time limit fixed by the local authorities. It has recently become increasingly evident, however, that the cantonal authorities, notably those of the canton of Zurich, where most of the Mormon missionaries reside, have adopted a definite policy of eliminating them gradually from the canton through a refusal to renew their residence permits. Several of the missionaries have recently been informed that their present permits will not be renewed and that they will be expected to leave the canton of Zurich before the end of the year. I am further informed that a number of other missionaries expect such notification in due course. In view of this the Department may wish to consider the entire question and to give the Legation and consular officers in Switzerland some general instructions to govern their action in dealing with this case.

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It would be very helpful to me to have the Department’s instructions on the following points:

Whether the Department is disposed to take exception to the Swiss contention that those provisions of the Constitution bearing upon religious liberty concern Swiss citizens only and cannot be invoked by the missionaries as specifically covering their proselytizing. If it is desired that I take exception to the Swiss position I should like a statement of the Department’s views for my guidance.
Whether the Department is disposed to contest the Swiss contention that Article III of the Convention of Friendship, Commerce and Extradition gives full warrant for refusing residence permits to American citizens whose presence is considered undesirable by the Swiss authorities; if so on what grounds.
What action the Department desires me to take on behalf of these missionaries. If it is desired that I support the contention of these missionaries that they should be allowed to remain indefinitely I should like a statement of the arguments to be advanced on their behalf. In deciding this question the Department will doubtless wish to bear in mind the possibility that serious pressure on behalf of these people may compromise the ability of the Legation to support the interests of other Americans who are in need of its assistance.

Pending receipt of the Department’s instructions, I shall continue to deal with each case individually, to seek an explanation of the reasons for refusing to renew residence permits and where such action by me appears warranted, to request that suitable extensions be granted.

In submitting the foregoing I venture to point out that action in some of the cases now pending is contemplated not later than October 31st. I should be glad, therefore, if I might be given full telegraphic instructions as soon as possible.

I have [etc.]

Hugh Gibson