Memorandum by the Officer in Charge of Mexican Affairs (Rubottom) to the Director of the Office of Middle American Affairs (Mann)


Subject: Mexican Workers


To obtain by legal means Mexican farm labor.


Although the United States–Mexico Farm Labor Agreement,1 signed one year ago, was expected to resolve the above problem, it has [Page 955] fallen far short of those expectations. The principal causes for the breakdown of the agreement are (1) the continued presence in the United States of thousands of illegally entered “wetbacks” in spite of the enforcement efforts of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, (2) the bitter opposition of the growers in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas and Southern California, who desire to continue the hiring of wetbacks, in view of (1) above and who have refused to cooperate with the USES and INS, and reportedly have even bribed certain Mexican authorities in an effort to have the agreement vitiated as a step toward the retention of their wetbacks, and (3) the inability of Mexico to carry out her obligations under the 1949 agreement.

Discussions with the Mexicans, in anticipation of this growing season, were begun in April. Mexico was told that the United States would need approximately 30,000 workers to be contracted at Monterrey, with some additional ones to be contracted at Chihuahua and Hermosillo. The three contracting centers had been placed in the interior of Mexico at the insistence of Mexico. She is now insisting, however, that it is politically impossible for her to contract laborers for the United States anywhere in Mexico due to the opposition of her own growers and labor unions.

In lieu of contracting at the above points, Mexico suggested that the United States, “for this one time only”, again legalize wetbacks now in this country, regardless of whether they entered prior to August 1, 1949 (as required under the amended agreement of last year) or only recently. The INS has maintained that this must not be done since it places a premium (by enabling the wetback to get a legal work contract) on those who have violated both Mexican and United States law. It would also make it difficult, if not impossible, for the INS to continue its deportation campaign directed against wetbacks since there would be inequality of justice (some wetbacks deported and others given work contracts). The State and Labor Departments have recognized the legal and moral correctness of that view, although it is believed that, since the suggestion to legalize wetbacks came from Mexico, the State Department could not reasonably object to the plan. The Department of Labor seems to be going along with the INS view mainly on principle and because of fear of opposition to any such plan from organized labor and segments of Congress.

A compromise plan was suggested calling for the continued deportation of wetbacks but with Mexico permitting certain numbers of such deportees, certified by USES as necessary to meet farm labor demands, to re-enter the United States legally and be contracted on this side. For Mexico this would guarantee that there would be no contracting south of the Rio Grande, while, for the United States, there [Page 956] would be no legalization of wetbacks since the workers contracted would have entered legally. This could be done under Mexican immigration laws and under United States laws by means of the Ninth Proviso granting the Attorney General authority to make certain exceptions to our immigration laws. However, representatives of INS and USES have just returned from San Antonio, where conferences were held with Mexican representatives, and they report that no workable understanding could be agreed to on this plan because of the Mexican insistence that the main ports of entry not be used and, more important, their demands that only selected wetback groups be deported for immediate re-entry. This is exactly what the Lower Rio Grande Valley has been wanting and adds credence to the report, which USES and INS accept now as fact, that the growers have bribed certain key Mexican officials to take a position which, in effect, will nullify the agreement and permit them to keep their wetback “key workers”.

On Saturday afternoon, I met with Messrs. Motley, Larin, and Holley of USES, and Mr. Kelly of INS. The alternatives facing the United States are:

Denounce the agreement;
Keep the agreement for the sake of appearances and in view of the present world situation, and arrange some modus operandi to get Mexican labor as needed. This can be done by
Legalization of wetbacks, now opposed by INS but within the authority of the Attorney General to accomplish. (It has already been done once, August 1949, under the agreement.)
Legal admission under the Ninth Proviso of Mexican workers to extent needed. This presupposes that Mexican immigration officials will permit their citizens who so desire to enter the United States to work under contract. The general contract provisions, with respect to treatment and wages, would be retained for the Mexican workers. Mr. Larin of USES is the principal advocate of this plan. He acknowledges that the Mexican immigration officials for a short while might not permit braceros to cross the border legally, but he believes that the pressure would soon build up and force them to permit such crossings.


Notwithstanding the undesirability of certain features of the plan, it appears that the legalization of wetbacks is the most practical method of extricating ourselves from this situation. This approach will make no difference in the Lower Valley, according to Jack Ohmans,2 who has just returned from there, since the wetbacks are already there by the thousands and are still flooding in. He reports that the courts are so crowded that deportation cases are stacking up. INS has insufficient personnel to carry out its program of rounding [Page 957] up wetbacks for voluntary deportation. The situation is bad and could hardly be worse.

By legalizing wetbacks, this Government can (1) assure growers in other States of a labor supply; (2) can avoid another “El Paso incident”3 (a real possibility if Larin’s suggestion to permit entry under the Ninth Proviso4 is carried out); and (3) can keep intact the agreement with Mexico at a time when it assumes possibly greater importance than before. It would also help prevent passage of the so-called Anderson Bill,5 which ignores Mexican immigration laws and would damage United States-Mexican relations.6

  1. Text of this Agreement of August 1, 1949, is printed in United States Treaties and Other International Agreements (UST), vol. 2 (pt. 1), p. 1048.
  2. John L. Ohmans, assigned to Mexican Affairs.
  3. Information concerning this incident is printed in the Department of State Bulletin, issues of October 31 and November 7, 1948, pp. 562 and 585–586, respectively.
  4. A reference to the Immigration Act of February 5, 1917 (39 Stat. 874). There were 10 “provisos” to Section 3 of the Act. The ninth of these recitals provided for the temporary entry into the United States of otherwise inadmissible aliens.
  5. S. 272, introduced by Senator Clinton P. Anderson of New Mexico, reported favorably by the Committee on the Judiciary on April 10, 1950, but not enacted that year. The Bill would have allowed Mexican farm workers to enter the United States to a number certified necessary by employers, without regard to Mexican legislation on the subject. The Department opposed S. 272 on the grounds it would unilaterally undercut the existing Agreement. (memorandum by Mr. Barber to Jack H. McFall, Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations, April 19, 811.06(M)/4–1950)
  6. In a memorandum to Mr. Barber of July 18, Mr. Rubottom reported in part that at a White House meeting of State, Labor, and Justice Department officials the representative of the latter agency objected to the legalization proposal on the grounds it would encourage illegal traffic and that it had therefore been decided to ask Mexico to allow braceros to cross the border legally. (811.06–M/7–1850) In telegram 86 from Mexico City, July 25, the Embassy said in part Mexico’s maximum concession would be to certify for immediate reentry the needed number of workers from among illegal entrants (who would be required first to depart the United States voluntarily). (811.06(M)/7–2450)

    An exchange of notes along the lines proposed by Mexico took place July 28. Text, not printed, is enclosed with despatch No. 270, August 28. (811.06–M/8–2850)