Memorandum Prepared in the Division of Far Eastern Affairs 83

Manchuria Situation—The Effect of a Revision of the Immigration Act on Present Relations Between the United States and Japan

Until 1924, and since 1908, the entry of Japanese into the United States was regulated by the so-called Gentlemen’s Agreement,84 by which the Japanese Government undertook, as a voluntary obligation:

To exercise great care in issuing passports and to warn the applicants therefor of the consequences of making false representations and of using passports fraudulently.
Not to issue passports to laborers, skilled or unskilled, except to those who had resided in the United States, or to the families of such persons.
Temporarily to suspend all further emigration to Hawaii.
To refuse further applications made by persons who had evaded the limitations placed on the issuance of passports, and to refuse also applications of the families of such persons.
To undertake the establishment of a system of registration: failure to register, however, not to involve the forfeiture of residential rights.

Section 13 (c) of the Immigration Act of 192485 provides that no alien ineligible to citizenship shall be admitted to the United States unless such alien (1) is admissible as a non-quota immigrant under sub-divisions b, d, or e of Section 4, or (2) is the wife, or the unmarried child under 18 years of age of an immigrant admissible under subdivision d of Section 4, and is accompanying or following to join him, or (3) is not an immigrant.

As persons of the Japanese race are held to be ineligible to citizenship, the following classes of Japanese are inadmissible under the provisions above-mentioned:

Quota immigrants.
The following categories of non-quota immigrants:
Wives, unmarried minor children, husbands by marriage before June 1, 1928, of American citizens.
Aliens born in certain countries (of the Western Hemisphere), their wives and unmarried children under 18 years of age.

The following classes of Japanese are admissible on the same terms as other aliens:

Non-Quota immigrants:
Aliens returning from a temporary visit abroad.
Ministers, professors, their wives and unmarried children under 18 years of age.
Students, at least 15 years of age.

The fact that resentment exists against the United States as a result of the Immigration Act is well known; but the reasons for the resentment are not as well understood in this country as one might expect, in view of the extended discussion which has taken place on this subject. The resentment does not arise from the fact that Japanese immigrants are excluded. Japan does not wish to send emigrants to the United States if they are not wanted, and it is the practice and policy of the Japanese Government to prohibit companies promoting emigration from operating in countries where an unfavorable reaction against an influx of Japanese may be [Page 760] expected. The Japanese have admitted consistently the right of the United States, equally with all other powers, freely to restrict immigration. Of course, the power to restrict immigration includes and involves the power of selection, but what the Japanese find obnoxious is the method of selection based on distinctions between races, with its implication that races which are debarred are inferior. In short, they resent their exclusion on racial grounds and the fact that they do not stand before the law of this country on the same basis as European races.

The discussion which arose over the presence of the phrase “grave consequences” in a note which the Japanese Ambassador addressed to the Secretary of State on April 10, 1924,86 when the Immigration Act was under process of enactment by Congress, will be recalled. This phrase was construed as a veiled threat against the United States. The Japanese Ambassador protested that this construction could not properly be placed upon it if it were read in its context. He had simply tried to emphasize

“the most unfortunate and deplorable effect upon our traditional friendship which might result from the adoption of a particular clause in the proposed measure. It would seriously impair the good and mutually helpful relationship and disturb the spirit of mutual regard and confidence, which characterizes our intercourse of the last three-quarters of a century.… Whereas there is otherwise every promise of hearty cooperation between Japan and the United States … it would create, or at least tend to create, an unhappy atmosphere of ill-feeling and misgiving over the relations between our two countries.”87

The significance of this statement was fully appreciated by the Administration, which realized that the discriminatory provisions of the Act would be disadvantageous from the point of view of maintaining cordial relations with Japan, which are essential if her cordial cooperation was to be obtained in maintaining the general Far Eastern policies of this Government. These cordial relations were also essential from the point of view of assimilating and winning the loyalty of the American born of Japanese descent in Hawaii and on the Pacific Coast.

The fundamental difficulty in the problem of remedying the existing situation arises from the fact that the population of the Pacific Coast and their representatives in Congress are opposed to granting Japanese an effective quota. And so long as the quota system is employed for the regulation of immigration, the Act cannot be amended to the satisfaction of the Japanese without either (a) permitting the entry of Japanese, and thus reviving anti-Japanese feeling [Page 761] on the Pacific Coast, or (b) granting the Japanese a nominal quota in return for an undertaking by the Japanese Government not to issue passports to the United States to Japanese in the “undesirable” categories, and thus arousing opposition in Congress, as well as on the Pacific Coast, on the ground that the sovereign right of the United States to regulate immigration cannot be delegated to a foreign country.

It has been argued that the number of Japanese entrants under quota on the basis of the present law as applicable to European countries would permit not more than 188 Japanese annually to enter the country as immigrants, and that this number would not constitute a cause for concern from any practical point of view. It is contended in reply to this argument that once the principle of a quota for Japanese is admitted, it would be difficult in the future to restrict Japanese immigration should the immigration laws be so revised as to provide a substantially larger quota. It is also contended that if the present laws are revised on the ground that they are discriminatory, quotas would also have to be granted to Chinese and other Orientals, which would aggravate the social and economic problems that the immigration laws are designed to restrict or ameliorate.

Whatever may be said against these objections, the fact remains that Congress is not likely to pass any legislation affecting the entry of Orientals into this country in disregard of the wishes of the people of the Pacific Coast, who would seem to be entitled to a controlling voice in the matter in view of the fact that a great majority of Japanese, as well as other Oriental immigrants, would inevitably settle among them.

During 1930 there occurred an increase of interest in the problem of solving the immigration question. Two occurrences raised Japanese hopes, only to end in disappointment. First, in May, 1930, Congressman Albert Johnson, Chairman of the House Committee on Immigration, announced his intention of introducing into Congress a bill to amend the Immigration Act of 1924 so that Japan would be given a proportional quota. Subsequently it developed that the statement was no more than so many words. Second, it was the understanding of many Japanese that the Japanese delegation to the London Naval Conference of 1930 was led to believe, if not promised, that Japanese concurrence to disarmament proposals would be followed by favorable action on the part of the United States with regard to immigration discrimination.

During the same year efforts were made by private organizations in the United States looking toward a solution of the immigration problem. The Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America [Page 762] planned to issue—but was dissuaded from issuing—a statement favoring amendment of the Immigration Act of 1924 so that Japan would be placed on the quota. Mr. Wallace Alexander88 and others on the Pacific Coast succeeded in getting all the Chambers of Commerce of the Pacific Coast to vote resolutions in favor of putting Japan on the quota. They worked with the labor people so that apparently there might at that time have been no opposition from the labor groups to a proposal for solution satisfactory to the Japanese. Mr. Hearst89 was reported to have promised neutrality, at least. During this period there was considerable correspondence between certain officers in the Department and Mr. Wallace Alexander, Mr. Sidney Gulick,90 Mr. Jerome Greene,91 and Mr. Mc-Clatchy.92

Desirous though the Department was that a favorable solution be arrived at, its opinion was that no solution should be brought forward publicly until there was found some proposal whose terms would satisfy both the potential “opposition” elements in this country and the susceptibilities of the Japanese. It believed that any proposed amendment of the immigration laws should show that the number of Oriental immigrants would remain at a desirable minimum, that it should be simple and easy of comprehension in order that doubts would not be raised with regard to the real intent of the change of laws and its effects, and that it should remove entirely all discrimination against Orientals.

Several proposals have been made. One suggestion, sponsored by Dr. K. L. Buell,93 is that a treaty be concluded between the United States and Japan affirming the right of each country to enact legislation prohibiting the entry into its territory of immigrants who are nationals of the other. The idea underlying this suggestion seems to be that restriction of immigration which is now effective by unilateral action would be based on agreement, thus removing stigma attaching to the exclusion of Japanese as Japan would stand on a footing of equality with other foreign countries. As Japan has repeatedly admitted the right of the United States to restrict immigration, this trite affirmation would scarcely be satisfactory to the Japanese.

Another suggestion, attributed to Congressman Albert Johnson, [Page 763] is to accord to Japan a quota on the same basis as European countries, at the same time retaining the present provisions of the Immigration Act of 1924 with regard to the inadmissibility of aliens ineligible to citizenship. This proposal leaves untouched the fundamental cause of the resentment felt by the Japanese, namely, the fact that they are excluded because of their ineligibility to citizenship, or, in effect, on racial grounds.

In December, 1930, a plan was evolved in the Department which appears to meet the realities of the situation more satisfactorily than any previous proposal. It has subsequently been improved, but still requires further development. In brief, it deals with the three principal problems involved with respect to the classes of immigrants, namely, (1) immigrants from the country in question, Japan; (2) wives and unmarried minor children of citizens of the United States; and (3) persons of Oriental descent born in Canada, Mexico, and other countries in the Western Hemisphere. The plan proposes that all reference to aliens ineligible to citizenship be removed from the Immigration Act of 1924. In case this were done the annual national quotas of Japan, China, and India, if computed on the present basis, would be approximately 188, 105, and 8, respectively. It has been suggested that, if not deemed inadvisable, these numbers could be reduced to 54, 35, and 5 by basing the “national origins quotas” on the number of citizens of continental United States instead of, as is now the case, on the number of inhabitants of the United States. This is not, however, an important problem, as the number in either case is small. With regard to the second class, namely, wives and minor children, restriction could be made by fixing the number of those to be admitted to a certain percentage of the quota. The third and most difficult problem, namely, persons of Oriental descent born in the Western Hemisphere, could be adequately restricted by providing that the quota or non-quota nationality of immigrants coming from countries in the Western Hemisphere should be determined by the country of origin of the paternal ancestor alive in a certain year, say, 1875. By this plan it can be shown that the total new immigration from Oriental countries would not exceed a certain numerical limit, such as three to four hundred for Japan, and similarly for other Oriental countries.

The Department was of the opinion that initiative with regard to this plan, which involved the repeal of laws involving provisions of the immigration laws of the United States affecting aliens ineligible to citizenship, should not be taken by the Department. The Department felt, however, that success of such a plan of procedure would depend upon the measure of support which could be gained for it in Congress and among the people of the Pacific [Page 764] Coast. At the same time it seemed that officers of the Department might with propriety, should their views be consulted by legislators or other responsible persons, orally and informally invite their consideration of the possibilities underlying the plan suggested. On September 18, 1931, however, the Japanese military began action in Manchuria which for the time being checked efforts in this country toward a solution of the problem.

If, before the Manchuria incident began, it was the feeling of the Department that “opposition” opinion in the United States was too strong to render likely the success of any proposal for solution, that feeling has been strengthened by subsequent developments. With the exception of the population of the Pacific Coast, there was, until 1931, extensive sympathy throughout the country with the position taken by the Japanese on the immigration question. Particularly strong was the thought, that an unnecessary affront was given to a friendly people, in communities which had no economic and social problems raised by the presence of Japanese in large numbers, but which did have important financial, commercial or cultural interests in Japan. It has been the leaders in these communities which were conspicuous in the movement to remove the cause of the grievance of the Japanese. Just how strong this sentiment of sympathy toward the Japanese with respect to the immigration question is today in these communities, it is difficult to estimate. However, it may safely be said that the wide attention which has been given to Japanese actions in China, the obloquy which attaches throughout this country to Japan as a violator of her contractual obligations, and the emotion now being shown toward Japan, are factors which would inevitably come into play immediately the suggestion of satisfying Japanese susceptibilities with regard to immigration were raised. In short it would be reasonable to suppose that any measure of this nature, such as the amendment proposed at the time of the passage of the Act, which failed of adoption at a time when sentiment was generally favorable toward Japan, would be even more certain of defeat if brought forward under the now existing circumstances.

It is believed that even the consummation of a satisfactory disposal of the immigration question—if it were possible—would not at this time have much effect toward alleviating the strain which arises out of and is produced by a problem in quite a different field. In the minds of the Japanese, their conflict with China over Manchuria is a conflict over concrete and fundamental interests; whereas their controversy with the United States over the exclusion of their nationals from the United States is a conflict over a principle or an ideal. They are a “proud people”, but they are also practical materialists. In considerable measure, their feeling against us in [Page 765] connection with the Manchuria question rests on their conviction that the United States stands in the way of the acquisition by Japan of economic and political sinews which they conceive to be essential for their very existence. An offer on our part at this time to them of a concession the chief value of which would be sentimental could scarcely be expected to contribute substantially toward reconciling them to our opposition to their course in relation to a matter which they feel to be of vital importance and in a different connection.

It is the view of this Division that any gestures made for the purpose of placating the Japanese or allaying the officially fostered irritation which just now prevails in Japan because of or in relation to the attitude of the United States toward the Sino-Japanese conflict, if made in connection with matters other than those which bear directly on the question of that conflict itself, would be open to misinterpretation and be almost sure to be misrepresented (by a certain element in Japan) as an evidence of apprehensiveness on our part.

It is our opinion that knowledge of there being initiated at this time by the executive branch of the Government any proposal looking toward revision of our law as it now stands on this subject (Japanese Immigration) would arouse opposition and produce heated discussion, on the part especially of the Pacific Coast representation in Congress, with substantial likelihood that such discussion would have an unfortunate repercussion on our relations in general with Japan.

It is believed, therefore, that there could be little to gain and might be much to lose by the suggestion at this time by this Department of any action in reference to the immigration question.

  1. Copies transmitted by the Department on February 11 to the Ambassador in Japan (instruction No. 196) and the Minister in China (instruction No. 997) for their “strictly confidential information”.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1924, vol. ii, pp. 339369.
  3. Approved May 26, 1924; 43 Stat 153.
  4. Foreign Relations, 1924, vol. ii, p. 369.
  5. Omissions indicated in the original memorandum.
  6. American businessman, San Francisco.
  7. William Randolph Hearst, American publisher and editor.
  8. Former American Protestant missionary in Japan; representative, Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America.
  9. American banker and educational administrator.
  10. Valentine Stuart McClatchy, American writer on Japanese immigration question.
  11. American publicist; writer of World Peace Foundation pamphlet “Japanese Immigration.”