Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. John L. Ohmans of the Office of Middle American Affairs


Subject: Mexican Migrant Labor Agreement

Participants: David H. Stowe, Presidential Assistant
Michael Galvin, Under Secretary of Labor
Edward Keenan, Assistant Director, Bureau of Employment Security, Department of Labor
Argyle Mackey, Commissioner, Immigration and Naturalization Service
Willard F. Kelly, Asst. Commissioner, Immigration & Naturalization Service
Edward Williams, Office of Attorney General, Dept. Justice
Thomas C. Mann, Deputy Asst. Secretary of State, Inter-American Affairs
John L. Ohmans, MID, Department of State
Milton Turen, Bureau of the Budget
Bernard Schmid, Bureau of the Budget

The meeting was called by Mr. Stowe in order to review recent developments concerning the Mexican migrant laborers and to discuss strategy to be followed in the immediate months ahead, with respect to the agreement with Mexico.

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Mr. Stowe recounted President Truman’s decision to sign P.L. 78 in July 1951 thus paving the way for the negotiation of the Migrant Labor Agreement of August 11, 1951. The President’s decision had been made then to limit the agreement to six months (President Aleman concurred) in order to grant time for Congressional action on the serious and growing “wetback” problem. But no positive action was taken by Congress in the session which ended in October and the agreement will end on February 11, 1952 unless further negotiations are undertaken with Mexico.

Congressional inaction on “anti-wetback” legislation was determined in part by considerable opposition among farmer groups to bills providing strong penalties for harboring and concealing “wetbacks”, and granting INS officers permission to enter their farms in search of the aliens who had entered illegally.

In talks with farmer groups in California and in Arkansas and in Farm Labor Committee meetings in Washington Mr. Stowe found that there was misunderstanding regarding the bills. However, after explaining the nature of the bills he was assured of grower support, unfortunately not reflected in any subsequent Congressional action. Mr. Stowe distributed copies of letters he exchanged with Max Henderson, Chairman of the Subcommittee of the Agricultural Labor Users’ Committee on the subject (attached1) which indicated that grower support of a bill along the lines of the Walters’ bill [H.R. 4055]2 could be expected. However, from a legislative point of view Mr. Stowe admitted that the Administration with its desire for some “wetback” curbs, batted zero.

Appropriation-wise, the INS and the USES fared a little better. INS received enough to pay for the expenses of the airlift, although this was not enough to put on extra men and continue the return by plane of the Mexican illegals. The USES received enough to meet their minimum expenses.

There was general discussion on the strategy that ought to be followed between November 15 and February 11. Mr. Stowe said he could not, of course, speak for President Truman, but if there were no prospect of legislation which would assist in controlling the “wetback” influx, he would recommend to the President that no negotiations be entered into to extend the agreement. For social, political, and for security reasons President Truman had to follow through with his program to seek curbs on wetbacks, Besides, the President had assured President Aleman that he would seek legislation on control of the wetbacks, and in reply President Aleman had expressed his sincere concern on the wetback problem.

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Mr. Mackey expressed his agreement and volunteered the comment that the INS would not consider the admissability of Mexicans under any conditions not consistent with the law. Mr. Galvin considered that the legislative “posture” about February 11 could change the picture; i.e., if there was a possibility of legislation about that date, it might prove to be advisable to seek a 30 or 60–day extension to the agreement so that the proper legislation could be passed.

In response to questioning by Mr. Mann, Mr. Kelly admitted that his patrol officers could not, under present budgetary limitations, on border patrol personnel prevent the use of wetbacks in the border areas, particularly the lower Rio Grande Valley. Mr. Galvin pointed out the inherent difficulty in gaining “grass root” support for legislation in February, (so that the agreement would be extended) because at that time and up through May the farmers needing workers could get along without legal workers and “wetbacks” could be procured fairly easily. It would not be until May or June that the farmers in Arkansas, Mississippi, Colorado, and northern California would create any great demand for legal workers.

Mr. Stowe said that the problem was very important and that a foreign importation program was needed. He was convinced that a Mexican agreement was the answer.

Copies of the Bureau of the Budget study3 (coordinating the Departmental views on the report of the President’s Commission on Migratory Labor) were distributed. Mr. Galvin hoped that preliminary views of State and Justice could be exchanged with Labor in about ten days, while Mr. Stowe expressed a desire for the agencies’ comments early in January.

The need for inter-agency coordination on the migrant labor problem, which was a recommendation of the Task Force study, received general agreement. Mr. Stowe said he would handle all specific inquiries concerning legislative action on a substitute for the Walters Bill (H.R. 4055); Mr. Galvin and his Labor Department officials would handle general inquiries on the operation of the agreement, and would seek greater support from the growers. The responsibility for pressure for legislation to control the wetbacks was delegated to INS State promised to seek coordination of all Departmental actions and to make proper references to the other agencies.

  1. None printed.
  2. Brackets in the source text.
  3. Not found in Department of State files