Cabot files, lot 56 D 13, “Mexico”

The Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs ( Cabot ) to the Ambassador in Mexico ( White )


Dear Francis : I was sorry not to have talked to you at greater length regarding the Department of Justice’s proposal to use Army and National Guard forces to stop the wetback traffic across the California frontier. Since I have every reason to suppose that telephone conversations between the Embassy and officers of the Department are recorded and since I do not wish the Mexican Government to know all the gory details about this matter, it seemed to me that we had better handle it by an exchange of letters, the more so as the Department of Justice will not act for some days at least. I should perhaps add that practically everything I said to you was aimed at the recording machine rather than at you.

I do not I am sure, need to tell you that the Department of Justice as well as this Department have been increasingly concerned at the enormous number of wetbacks who are slipping into the United States, nor do I need to point out to you how undesirable this traffic is. In California the situation has become particularly bad in that the wetbacks are resorting to violence and the people of Southern California are getting both alarmed and fed up. In other words, whether we like it or not something has got to be done about it. Interestingly enough, the same complaints do not come from Texas despite the fact that the wetback traffic there is also heavy. The Texas farmers seem to favor the traffic despite its inconveniences.

You are also familiar with the many representations which the Mexicans have made to us asking us to take effective measures to stop the traffic of wetbacks. It is true that the measure they have normally [Page 1340] requested is that we crack down on the farmers employing the wetbacks. Practically speaking this is not possible for political reasons and, therefore, if we are going to do anything at all, it must be something else.

We recognize that the use of the military to stop the wetback traffic will almost certainly provoke incidents and that those incidents will react on our relations with Mexico. I am sorry that this is the case. Nevertheless any enforcement measures we take, or indeed any lack of enforcement measures we take, are bound to lead to incidents due to the tremendous pressure of the wetback movement. Under these circumstances and recognizing that we face a choice of evils, it seemed to me better to seize the bull by the horns, see how effective military measures could be on one section of the frontier, stimulate both sides to demand a mutually satisfactory bracero agreement and do what we can to convince the Mexican Government that our measures were at least in part due to their pressure. It was precisely to get the fairest possible opinion on the latter point that I talked to Brownell as reported in my memorandum of conversation of August 8.1

I would greatly appreciate a detailed expression of your views. Probably we could not stop the proposed measures even if we should make a last ditch fight of it, but naturally I should like to do what is right even if it is not likely to succeed. I shall therefore await your views with the keenest interest.2

With every good wish,

Very sincerely yours,

John M. Cabot
  1. Not printed.
  2. The source text bears the following handwritten postscript: “It seems to me pertinent also that the Mexicans are reported to use troops to patrol their side of the border.”