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The British Embassy to the Department of State


A bill introduced by Senator King, numbered S–7 and entitled “a bill to provide for the deportation of certain alien seamen and for other purposes” has been favourably reported by the Immigration Committee of the Senate. It is identical with previous bills of the same title which in past years have passed the Senate but failed to pass the House. Last spring, however, under the number S–202 it both passed the Senate and was approved by the Immigration Committee of the House of Representatives,8 though the House itself did not find time to vote on it; and now under the number H. R. 4648, an identic bill introduced by Mr. Schneider, has been laid before the House Committee simultaneously with the introduction of S–7 in the Senate.

The avowed purpose of this bill is to reinforce the existing measures which exclude certain categories of aliens from the United States. In practice its effect would go much further. It is the general international understanding and practice and in accordance with international comity, that when private ships of a foreign state are in port the territorial authorities refrain from interference with their internal economy. The bill in question, however, provides for interference with the composition of the crews of foreign vessels [Page 952] while in United States ports and is therefore in conflict with a well-established, well-recognized and useful international practice. Moreover it lays down that certain categories of aliens shall not be employed as seamen on foreign ships calling at United States ports. The British Embassy under instructions from His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom have not failed to draw attention to this aspect of the bill in past years.
From the practical point of view also certain features of the bill would create many and grave difficulties for shipowners and masters. Section 6, for instance, provides that clearance shall be refused to vessels departing from United States ports unless they carry out a crew of at least the same number that they brought in. This provision, as again the British Embassy has pointed out in the past, would be extremely difficult to comply with and might easily result in long and costly delays and make the punctual fulfillment of sailing schedules impossible. At the same time the Assistant Secretary of Labor himself testified before the House Committee on Immigration in February last9 that from his Department’s view point also the bill was in certain important particulars unworkable.
But it is Section 7 of this Bill which causes the gravest concern to His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom. This section of the bill lays down that no vessel shall bring into a United States port any alien seaman excluded on racial grounds from the right of immigration to the United States, unless he be a citizen of the country under whose flag the ship sails. Thus in practice all vessels with Asiatic elements in their crews, save only the vessels of Asiatic countries with crews consisting of their own citizens and—it seems—United States ships with Filipinos, would be debarred from entry to United States ports unless at the cost of deliberately incurring the penalties which the bill provides for its violation. All other ships in which Chinese and Lascar seamen were employed would be gravely embarrassed by such a provision; but the measure would bear particularly hard on British tramp steamers trading with American ports in the course of their world voyages. For these especially the technical difficulty of eliminating from their crews the Asiatic elements in question would be so great as possibly to result in the necessity of their omitting United States ports from their sailing schedules; for the bill would leave them with no alternative but to submit on arrival to the removal of the Asiatics in question to a United States immigration station for deportation in a ship other [Page 953] than that in which they were brought and at the cost of the vessel in which they came.
In the circumstances described above it can hardly be disputed that, though the avowed object of the bill is merely a reinforcement of the existing immigration restrictions, its virtual effect, if not its actual object, is to impose a handicap on foreign shipping. In effect it would dictate to other countries in what manner they shall man ships which convey passengers and goods to and from the United States. If other countries should adopt similar and perhaps even mutually conflicting measures international shipping would be brought to a complete standstill. His Majesty’s Government are prepared to cooperate in every reasonable way with the United States authorities to prevent the illicit entry into the United States of seamen not eligible for citizenship but they must earnestly trust that some alternative can be devised to a measure open to such grave objections as the present bill. Moreover, the proposals of that measure, in so far as they are concerned with immigration control, would seem capable of being equally well served by a strict enforcement of existing legislation; for Sections 19 and 20 of the United States Immigration Act of 192410 already provide that alien seamen ineligible for citizenship may be debarred from landing in United States ports upon order from the Immigration authorities. These provisions would seem to furnish ample safeguard and to make further legislation superfluous.
There remains one aspect of the bill to which the British Embassy are instructed to draw particular attention. Operating as it does to debar British ships from employing as seamen even the natives of British colonies and dependencies, Indian Lascars for instance and other British subjects who by reason of their race are debarred from the privilege of immigration to the United States, it conveys the impression of being specifically directed against the British Empire. As has been pointed out, it would involve a discrimination in favour of Japan in as much as by specific exception from the general provisions of its article 7 it permits the ships of any sovereign nation to be manned with subjects of that nation but not with racially excluded citizens of its colonies or dependencies. Therefore Japanese ships with Japanese crews would still be able freely to enter United States ports but the British steamers which, competing with them, seek to equalise the costs of operation by employing oriental crews, would be debarred from entry. At the same time British shipping would also be placed at a disadvantage compared with United States [Page 954] shipping; who would not be debarred by the bill from employing for instance, Filipinos, the inhabitants of United States dependencies not being affected by the bill. To this extent therefore the bill denies national treatment to British shipping. Nevertheless the beneficiaries would be not so much the United States as Japan.
In the circumstances above described, it will be appreciated that this bill, if passed would deal a grievous blow to British shipping and could not fail to cause very considerable feeling in British shipping and commercial circles who would naturally ask that steps be taken to protect their interests. His Majesty’s Government therefore earnestly trust that the measure, being open to such grave objections as those above enumerated, will not be proceeded with at any rate in its present form.
  1. See Foreign Relations, 1931, vol. i, p. 815.
  2. Deportation of Alien Seamen: Hearings before the Subcommittee of the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, 71st Cong., 3d sess., on S-202 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1932.)
  3. 43 Stat. 153.