150.071 Control/166

The Secretary of State to the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Immigration ( Coolidge )

My Dear Senator Coolidge: In view of the erroneous impression which may have arisen in the minds of persons who heard or read the debate on the House floor immediately preceding the passage on March 5, 1934, of H. R. 3842, concerning the deportation of alien seamen, regarding the attitude of the present administration of the Department of State towards this bill, I believe that it might be of interest to you, as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Immigration, at which committee the bill in question is understood to have been [Page 758] referred, to have the following discussion in regard to the bill in Question.

The basic argument in favor of this bill, as shown both by committee reports on this and similar bills, and by the testimony of its advocates, is that large numbers of alien seamen have entered the United States illegally. It is, therefore, of particular interest in considering the necessity for the passage of such legislation to consider what the situation is as regards desertions of alien seamen. Annual reports of the Secretary of Labor covering this point give the following total figures for annual desertions of alien seamen at American ports during each of the past seven fiscal years ended June 30th:

Fiscal Year Alien Seamen Desertions
1927 23,447
1928 12,357
1929 11,314
1930 9,117
1931 3,341
1932 1,344
1933 664

The Department of Labor’s testimony at previous hearings on similar bills is to the effect that approximately two-thirds of the total alien seamen reported as deserting at American ports eventually reship on other vessels for foreign destinations. It would, therefore, seem that the problem which the present bill is intended to solve has diminished to the point where it may no longer be said to be a serious one.

The Department is in sympathy with the principle that desertions of alien seamen arriving on vessels at ports of the United States should be prevented in so far as possible and that seamen unlawfully or improperly here should be required to leave the country. The Department is of the opinion, however, that there are serious objections to certain provisions of the bill from the standpoint of our relations with foreign countries. It is also of the opinion that other provisions of the bill, such as those relating to the examination of alien seamen to determine their bona fides, are unnecessary, since this purpose can be accomplished under the provisions of existing law, and that the bill will not have the effect of preventing an increase in the number of alien seamen residing here illegally.

The bill provides in general that every alien employed on board of any vessel arriving in the United States from foreign places shall be examined to determine (1) whether he is a bona fide seaman, (2) whether he is racially ineligible to United States citizenship and, if so, whether he is a citizen or subject of the country of the vessel’s registry, excluding the colonies, dependencies, or mandates of such [Page 759] country, and (3) whether he is suffering from any disabilities or diseases specified in Section 35 of the Immigration Act of 1917.7

The bill provides that any alien found not to be a bona fide seaman, or if racially ineligible to citizenship, found not to be a national of the country of the vessel’s registry, as defined in Section 7, shall be removed from the vessel to an immigration station and that the various provisions of the proposed act and of the immigration laws applicable to immigrants shall be enforced in his case. It is provided that the alien may appeal to the Secretary of Labor on certain questions. If the alien is found to be inadmissible, or if he is racially ineligible to citizenship and is not a national of the country of the vessel’s registry, as provided in Section 7 of the bill, the alien is to be deported as a passenger on a vessel other than that by which he was brought to the United States.

It is also provided that all vessels entering ports of the United States manned with crews the majority of which, exclusive of licensed officers, have been engaged and taken on at foreign ports shall, when departing from United States ports, carry a crew of at least equal number except in the case of death or hospitalization of any member of the incoming crew.

The provision for the examination of alien seamen upon arrival at a port of the United States would seem to be unnecessary in view of the provisions of Sections 19 and 20 of the Immigration Act of 19248 which are adequate to provide for the examination of alien seamen to determine whether they are bona fide seamen and whether they are not inadmissible upon medical grounds. The provision for removing an alien to an immigration station for further examination and for possible deportation would seem to be unnecessary as a means of preventing the illegal entry of the alien into the United States in view of the fact that under the provisions of Sections 19 and 20 of the Immigration Act of 1924 any alien found not to be a bona fide seaman by the immigration inspector, who apparently would be the inspecting officer under the proposed bill, could be required to be held on board the vessel by the owner, charterer, agent, consignee, or master of the vessel. The proposed bill requiring removal to a detention station might create difficulties at ports at which facilities for detention are not provided. If in the absence of such facilities the seaman should be confined in a common jail, complaints would undoubtedly be received from foreign governments. If under the proposed procedure a case is not disposed of prior to the sailing of the vessel, an awkward situation would arise if it should be found that the alien was in fact [Page 760] a bona fide seaman. The alien might be stranded in the United States without facility for rejoining his ship.

The provision that vessels shall take out a full crew would be onerous upon the vessel in the absence of provisions to meet the practical shipping needs of vessels due to last minute desertions, necessary seasonal changes in the size of the crews and the fact that vessels having a certain composition of their crews with a view to preserving internal peace and discipline on board may find that it is difficult or impossible to procure suitable additions to the crews. The provision that vessels carry out full crews would not be entirely effective to accomplish the apparent object of preventing an increase of illegal residents of the United States through desertions of seamen, because the additions to the crew would not necessarily be made up of other illegal residents, but could be composed of American citizens or aliens admitted for permanent residence, with the result that the illegal resident population of the country would continue to be increased by the number of deserting seamen who are not replaced by persons of the illegal resident seamen class.

The provision that members of a crew racially ineligible to citizenship who are not nationals of the country of the vessel’s registry may be removed from the vessel for deportation as passengers upon a different vessel, is decidedly objectionable in that it would violate international comity because it would constitute a departure from the general international understanding and practice that when private ships of a foreign state are in port, the territorial authorities refrain from interference with their internal economy. The provision would require the removal, by force if necessary, from a foreign vessel of aliens who are citizens, subjects, or inhabitants of a colony, dependency, or mandate of the nation of the vessel’s registry. The provision would, accordingly, discriminate between different countries by preventing the inclusion of nationals of a country in the crews of its vessels. For example, Lascars, who are British nationals, could not serve as seamen on British vessels, and, similarly, Javanese, who are Netherland nationals, could not serve on Netherland ships. On the other hand, Japanese and Chinese vessels could have on board nationals of these countries who are equally ineligible to United States citizenship. The provision might tend to impede trade and commerce and might cause vessels which have heretofore come to American ports to change their routes to ports in nearby countries with resulting loss to American ports and railway and other transportation lines. The provision might also react unfavorably against the American merchant marine as a result of possible reprisals. In this connection it may be mentioned that where the laws of a country require that a certain composition of the crew shall be made up of nationals of the country, [Page 761] as in the case of the United States under the Act of May 22, 1928,9 it might be difficult to procure replacements which would comply with the laws of the country of the vessel’s registry.

In brief, the bill, if enacted in its present form, would violate international comity, would affect unfavorably our relations with foreign countries, and would not add provisions more effective than those at present available to verify the bona fides of arriving seamen.

Bills similar to this one have come up for consideration a number of times in the past and have been the subject of protests by the principal maritime nations of the world.

Sincerely yours,

Cordell Hull
  1. 39 Stat. 874.
  2. 43 Stat, 153.
  3. Merchant Marine Act of 1928; 45 Stat 689.