L/SFP files, lot 67 D 466, “Immigration and Naturalization, JMK”

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations (Brown)

  • Subject:
  • Immigration & Naturalization Bill
  • Participants:
  • Senator William Benton
  • The Secretary
  • Ben H. Brown, Jr.—H

I saw Senator Benton at his request to discuss the reaction of several Senators to the Department’s recommendation to the President on the McCarran–Walter Immigration Bill.1

Senator Benton started off by saying that he, Senator Humphrey and Senator Lehman were deeply shocked that the Department had recommended signature of the Omnibus Immigration Bill without having consulted them. He said that Senator Lehman was hit harder by the blow than any of the others. He characterized our [Page 1616] failure to consult with them prior to making our report to the President as a failure in congressional relations.

I stated to the Senator that our report to the President was a secret report from a Cabinet officer to the President and that it would not have been appropriate to discuss it with anyone. I pointed out that the recommendation was made purely from the standpoint of foreign relations and that by its specific terms it did not comment on other aspects of the bill. I pointed out further that the recommendation was not supposed to have become public, that it was strictly a matter between the Department and the President. I gave Senator Benton for his information a copy of the Department’s recommendation to the President and of the more detailed Department paper which discussed the Bureau of the Budget’s comments on the legislation.2 Senator Benton replied that although the fact that the report was supposed to have been a secret one threw a little different light on the situation, it had still been most embarrassing to those who had fought against the bill and for a more liberal bill. He felt that our report had cost them the two votes necessary to sustain the veto.

He stated that since the principal thing the Department seemed to be interested in was removal of racial discrimination, he could have obtained passage in the Senate of H.R. 403.3 I pointed out that this would not have solved the problem since it related only to naturalization and by its very terms it did not remove any racial barriers to immigration. The Senator replied that as a price for adjournment he and his colleagues could have obtained an appropriate amendment and passage of the bill. Mr. Brown interposed that the Department had been trying for several years to obtain legislation along this line and had, in fact, attempted to have the House amend H.R. 403 to this effect without success. The Senator was not shaken in his belief that he and his colleagues could have obtained legislation removing racial discrimination in both immigration and naturalization.

I told Senator Benton that it was our obligation to report to the President the views of our Far Eastern friends on this subject and I showed him copies of two telegrams4 from Ambassador Murphy which indicated how strongly the Japanese felt. The Senator replied that he was not surprised at the messages, that he was present in Japan when the Japanese Exclusion Act was passed and knew of the very bad public reaction. He then restated his opinion that we could have accomplished this purpose through H.R. 403.

[Page 1617]

I asked Senator Benton to study our report to the President and the accompanying papers which I had given him and he said he would be happy to do so. He indicated that he had a better understanding of the Department’s position than before our conversation.

Senator Benton said that he was sorry Senator Lehman and Senator Humphrey were not in town as they should have liked to accompany him, and asked me to please write them each a letter. This I undertook to do.5

  1. See the memorandum by Secretary Acheson, Apr. 14, 1952, p. 1587.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Reference is to a bill passed by the House on Feb. 19, 1951, permitting the naturalization of Asiatics in the United States. The Senate took no action on this bill.
  4. Not further identified.
  5. Not printed.