The Ambassador in Mexico ( White ) to the Secretary of State

personal and confidential
very urgent

Dear Foster : When I came to Mexico, I determined not to add to your burdens with matters here unless they were of such importance or gravity that you should know about them. Such a situation has now arisen and it is of such importance to you personally, to our relations with Mexico, to our relations with Latin America as a whole, and to the Republican Party that I bring it to your attention.

At 5:30 o’clock on the afternoon of August 11th, I learned that the Attorney General, Mr. Brownell, was proposing to use Federal troops [Page 1341] and the National Guard to stop the wetback traffic across the California Border and that a proclamation to that effect had already been drafted. Apparently, some of the authorities in California had presented the matter to him in such a way as to upset him and make him feel that some drastic action should be taken.

The bracero wetback problem is a difficult one but the way to handle it, in my opinion, is definitely not by the use of force. It seems to me that such a policy is just as unimaginative and negative a policy as it was to intervene with troops years ago in some of the Caribbean and Central American Republics. It took me from 1922 to 1926 to get the Marines out of Nicaragua. I was then sent to Spain for a few months, and when I returned, I found the Marines back there and it took from 1927 to 1933 to get them out again in an orderly way. Having lived with that situation for eleven years, I know what such a blunder can entail in the work of the Secretary of State and of the Department. I feel that the expedient of calling out Federal troops and the National Guard in the wetback case on the Mexican Border would be an even more tragic blunder than was the sending of Marines to Nicaragua. Mexico is so much more important and is the keystone of all our relations with Latin America. The effect of such action on our relations would be disastrous.

I have been working closely with Señor Padilla Nervo, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, since I have been here to make the meeting at the Falcon Dam1 a success. I was much gratified last week when he told me spontaneously and in all sincerity that the Mexican Government really wants to make the Falcon Dam meeting an outstanding demonstration to the rest of Latin America of the mutual friendship, understanding and regard that exists between the United States and Mexico. He and other Mexican officials are fully cognizant of the special role that Mexico plays in our relations with Latin America and have told me so. Other countries in Latin America look to our relations with Mexico as a barometer with which to judge our whole Latin American policy. A number of the Latin American Ambassadors here have told me the same and some even implied that watching that situation was their most important duty here.

With troops on the Border shooting at Mexican citizens, our relations will so deteriorate that I am afraid the Falcon Dam meeting would not be the auspicious affair we hoped for it and it might even have to be abandoned.

From comments that have come to me from several sources, one of the points which I brought out in an impromptu talk at a luncheon [Page 1342] given for me to meet Mexican bankers was my contrast between the Iron Curtain frontier of other countries and the Falcon Dam on the United States-Mexican frontier. We won’t be able to make capital out of that if we have bayonets and muskets on our frontier.

Despite certain newspaper comments to the contrary, relations with Mexico are now on a friendly and sound basis of cooperation. Shootings along the frontier can completely change all that. If troops are sent there to keep the wetbacks out, how are they going to do it? Not by giving them a pat on the back and asking them politely to go home. If their job is to keep the wetbacks out and they see some fellow trying to sneak across, somebody is going to use his gun. Even if it is only a warning shot, he will be shooting south and somebody is going to get hurt. Incidents will inevitably happen.

When the Simpson Bill 2 was under consideration in the Congress, some of the unfriendly press carried headlines that the United States declared war on Mexico. What would it be when troops are called out to man the Border and also when incidents occur? Even the friendly and important press will certainly carry most invidious headlines and editorials.

This situation will be exploited throughout Latin America. It will be seized on by the Communists for anti-American propaganda here, in Latin America and in the rest of the world. The Argentine Embassy here is spending very considerable sums of money on anti-American propaganda. This will be hand-tailored for their purposes. Also the National Guard will undoubtedly contain many members whose homes are near the Border and who often speak in most derogatory terms of the Mexicans. They are apt to be very trigger-happy and will supply further fuel in an anti-American campaign.

I understand that some of the reasoning back of this move is that many representations have been made to us by the Mexican Government asking us to take effective measures to stop the traffic of wetbacks and that military measures on the frontier would stimulate both sides to demand a mutually satisfactory bracero agreement.

The Mexican Government in a purely informal way in conversations regarding the bracero matter has asked that we do something to prevent the wetbacks coming into the United States. This is because they contend that the wetbacks depress the price of labor in the United States and hence the price that we pay under our contracts with the braceros. There has never been any demand that Federal [Page 1343] troops be called out or the National Guard so far as I am aware. Nothing of the sort has been remotely suggested to me since I have been here and I have consulted all members of my staff concerned with the matter and no such representations have ever been made to them. If any have been made by the Mexican Embassy in Washington to the Department of State, this Embassy has never been advised thereof. What the Mexicans are interested in, I repeat, is higher wages for their braceros. They have asked that we pass a law making it illegal for anyone in our country to employ an illegal immigrant. This, of course, would be out of the question politically at home as it would make every individual responsible for enforcing our immigration laws and these immigrants get right up to the Canadian Border at Detroit and other places. It has been pointed out to the Mexican Government that that is not the solution. There is a very long frontier between our two countries and the Border Patrol, from economic necessity, cannot be sufficient to control the matter. The Mexicans could help on their side and should do so because these people are not only violating our immigration laws, but they are violating Mexican law in leaving the country without the proper permits.

There are few railway and highroads leading from the center of Mexico to the Border and when the Mexicans know that on these few routes, thousands of people are traveling to the Border to leave Mexico illegally and enter the United States illegally, the Mexicans could take precautions, if they would, to prevent their getting to the Border where they can fan out over the country and cross the frontier with relative facility. The Mexicans’ reply to that is that a Mexican can travel anywhere in the country he wants, that his travel is not illegal, until he crosses the frontier. They have wanted to put the whole burden and onus of preventing the traffic on us. The most they have done recently is to send three or four jeeps and about fifteen men to the Rio Grande Valley around Reynosa and even these have now been withdrawn, according to the best information we can obtain.

It has been suggested that the Mexicans have used troops to patrol their side of the Border. The Embassy can find no confirmation of this whatsoever except once under the Presidency of Aleman when troops were used to make the peons harvest the cotton crop on his ranch and the ranches of a few of his friends near the Border. When this was done, the troops were withdrawn and the wetbacks allowed to come over. It is even reported that some of the soldiers discarded their rifles and uniforms and crossed the Border also as wetbacks, lured by the two-dollar a day wage as contrasted with their pay of thirty cents a day.

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The effect of this on the Republican Party is also obvious. The Democrats would be provided with a wonderful issue that the good-neighbor policy had been jettisoned and we were back to the use of troops and force.

In this connection, I may say that last Friday, Nancy and I went to a small dinner of ten—all Mexicans but ourselves—in the home of an important Mexican official. He took me aside after dinner and said that a Cabinet Officer had recently told him that the Republican Party is hostile to Latin America. My friend replied that Mexico has been invaded several times by the United States but always when we had a Democrat administration at home. He evinced concern over this and a desire to talk with me further on the matter to see what we could do to offset it. As a result, he is lunching with me alone on Monday to go into the situation fully. Troops on the Border will support the Cabinet Officer’s contention.

Only yesterday, I received information from a very trustworthy source that the informant had been shown what purported to be a memorandum given by an unidentified Mexican to President Ruiz Cortines setting forth purportedly the Republican Party’s evaluation of the present Mexican Cabinet. The memorandum specifically stated that the Foreign Minister, Señor Padilla Nervo, is an out and out Communist. This, of course, is absurd. I am trying to run the matter down and find out more about it. Perhaps your sources of information can find out whether such a memorandum was prepared by the Republican Committee or others last January. It is quite possible, of course, that this is a spurious document planted for mischievous purposes and it shows what we have to contend with.

The bracero problem is a serious one and the agreement regarding it expires December 31st of this year, but it is only one problem in our relations with Mexico, and to jeopardize those other interests here and throughout Latin America to get a bracero agreement would, I feel, be a tragic blunder. We can get a bracero agreement and without calling out of troops. In fact, that might make it much more difficult. If the matter is entrusted to the Embassy for negotiation with representatives of the Labor Department merely to give technical advice from Washington or perhaps down here, it can be worked out. The last time it was negotiated by representatives of the Labor Department who pounded the table and threatened to leave and break off the negotiations on numerous occasions. It did not promote good understanding. I feel that the Embassy can negotiate it if negotiations are in its hands. We succeeded in the foot-and-mouth disease matter when we took over after the Department of Agriculture’s representatives here had taken a very intransigent position and impugned the good faith of the Mexican Minister of Agriculture.

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In this whole connection, it is important to know that the authorities of the State of California often go off half-cocked in these matters. Just recently an official of the County of Los Angeles called on me, introduced by his Senator. He maintained that the Mexicans are giving the Californians no support in curbing the narcotics traffic across the Border, and he wanted me to take the matter up with President Ruiz Cortines. I did discuss the matter informally at length with the Mexican official in charge of narcotics. He showed me documents showing that Mexico has gone far beyond its treaty obligations in this matter and has been praised therefor by Mr. Anslinger, head of the Bureau of Narcotics of the Treasury Department. Seven years ago, Mr. Anslinger and his Canadian counterpart had been the most outspoken critics of Mexico and over two years ago, were the first to state openly in the International Narcotics Control Committee that Mexico had done far more than required and that its action should be a model for other nations. As a result, this Mexican official has for the last two years been elected chairman of that Committee.

Despite this, a report of the California Crime Commission criticized Mexico a while ago. The Mexican Consul in Los Angeles took the matter up with the Chairman of that Committee and showed him the documents to prove his case. The Californian stated that the Crime Committee, having made its report, was dissolved; that the statements were not those of the official committee but merely of the members thereof, and admitted that they had drawn that section of their report up rather hurriedly and without thoroughly going into the matter!! If we act on half-baked complaints of the Californians, we are bound to be in very hot water. I am assembling material to put them right on the narcotics matters.

It is also alleged that the wetback situation in California has become particularly bad because the wetbacks are resorting to violence. The information we have indicates that there has been violence in sporadic cases and that the fault has been about fifty-fifty on the part of our enforcement agents and the wetbacks. Recently a wetback was wounded by gunfire and about two months ago a member of the Border Patrol repatriating wetbacks stopped the bus carrying the deportees to pick up another wetback hiding in the bushes. When the guard got out to go after this man, some of the wetbacks in the bus jeered him and the guard picked up a clod of earth, threw it through the open window, hitting a deportee in the eye, which resulted in his loss of the eye; so the violence is not all on one side.

I am bringing this matter to your urgent attention because the information I have from Washington is that probably we could not stop the proposed measures even if the Department should make a last-ditch fight of it. I feel that it is imperative that that last-ditch fight be made. I read last night in the number of the New York Times that I received [Page 1346] yesterday that Mr. Brownell is now in California studying the matter and will be back in Washington next Tuesday, August 18th. This morning’s Mexican press reports further that he will stop off in Denver on Monday to report to the President. For these reasons, I feel it imperative to get this information to you as quickly as possible.3

With kindest regards,

Yours very sincerely,

  1. President Eisenhower and President Ruiz Cortines of Mexico were scheduled on Oct. 19, 1953, to dedicate Falcón Dam on the Rio Grande, 75 miles south of Laredo, Texas. The meeting was arranged at the Department’s initiative in May and June 1953.
  2. The Simpson Bill (H.R. 5894, 83d Cong., 1st sess.), introduced by Pennsylvania Representative Richard M. Simpson, provided for mandatory curbs on the importation of certain commodities which threatened or caused injury to U.S. producers. The bill, favorably reported out of the House Ways and Means Committee on July 8, 1953, was sent back to committee and effectively killed by a majority vote of the House on July 23, 1953.
  3. No reply from Dulles has been found in Department of State files. The following note was written at the top of the first page: “The Attorney General will talk this over with us on his return. Nothing rash is contemplated.” This note, signed with the initials N.M.P., was presumably Written by Norman M. Pearson, Staff Assistant to Assistant Secretary Cabot.