Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State (Berle) to the Under Secretary of State (Welles)
I attended the executive session of the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization. The hearing concerned an amendment to the immigration law permitting deportation of deserting seamen to the country of the vessel on which they had signed articles where they could not be deported to their own countries. In practice this means Chinese seamen.
The Maritime Commission took the laboring oar in urging the amendment—pointing out, among other things, that four ships actually carrying troops and supplies to North Africa had been held up by desertion, and that something had to be done about it. The Department of Justice joined in that view, though less strongly. When they got through, the committee asked the views of the Department. I said that we had given prayerful consideration to this. We wished to give the utmost recognition to the Chinese case. The real difficulty was that the Chinese sailors objected to working under British masters (a) because the wages and conditions were discriminatory, and (b) because there was a feeling of race prejudice.
I pointed out that during the past year we had worked with the British until the inequalities of pay, treatment, etc., were substantially removed. The race difference of course nobody could remove save through a long process of education.
I pointed out that the case of Chinese seamen was exactly the same as the case of all Allied seamen—many of whom had wished to desert here to get higher pay on American ships or in American munitions factories or to make illegal entry into the United States. We had virtually stopped this by removal of grievances and by deportation. In effect, therefore, the Chinese were now in a privileged position. This, of course, combined with the delay to our own ships, created a difficult situation.[Page 800]
I said that we had finally come to the conclusion that first things came first; that from the finding of facts as the Maritime Commission had stated them, namely, that our war effort was being jeopardized, we were forced to agree that the position taken by the Maritime Commission was right. Unless there was a victory, the Chinese worries about discrimination would cease to exist and the Nazis and the Japanese would do it for them. Further, the matter was, in essence, one of our own domestic law.
But, I said, the clauses drawn gave administrative discretion to the Attorney General. The Department of Justice had very courteously and faithfully worked with us in these matters in completest harmony. Both Justice and we agreed that the most sympathetic and favorable administration of the law was indicated, so that the Chinese position should be preserved up to the limit.
I noted that the Chinese had themselves agreed that there should be no desertions and were really embarrassed by their lack of ability to control their own men.
At the close of the testimony, the sole objector on the committee withdrew his objection. I gather, therefore, that the amendment will have the unanimous support of the committee, or at least of those members present.