Memorandum by the Officer in Charge of Mexican Affairs (Belton) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Cabot)



  • Suggested Position on Migrant Labor Problem.

In your further discussions with Attorney General Brownell on the wetback problem, the following position is suggested:

Penalties against employers have long been felt by the Mexicans to be the answer to the wetback problem. There is no doubt that a system of administrative fines would be pleasing to them. However, this is a domestic matter and one on which the Department probably should not voice an opinion. Attention is called to the suggestion which appeared in a letter to the New York Times, published August 22, that Social Security cards be denied to wetbacks and that employers be denied income tax deductions for labor expenses paid to persons not possessing such cards.
There is no objection on the part of the Department or, so far as is known, of the Mexican Government, to the return of wetbacks to the interior of Mexico in the most efficient and effective way possible, probably by airlift. The Department will be happy to assist in making any necessary arrangements with the Mexican Government for whatever system of transportation may be devised.
The Department has for years been endeavoring to persuade the Mexican Government to take effective action against the departure of wetbacks, with practically no success. The Mexican Government maintains it is constitutionally unable to take action against its citizens at the points where policing would be most effective, some one hundred miles or more south of the border. This is a matter of interpretation, however, and our Embassy has called the attention of the Mexican Government to provisions of Mexican law which appear to authorize such action. The New York Times of August 24 carried an article stating the Mexicans had started patrolling well south of the border. This has not yet been officially confirmed, but if it is the case it may indicate a reversal of the previous stand. We will ask Ambassador White to discuss this subject with the Mexican Foreign Minister.
The present Migrant Labor Agreement expires December 31. Preliminary conversations between this Department and the Department of Labor concerning a new agreement are already under way. An entirely new approach to the problem is being considered with a view to devising a simplified agreement to reduce the relative advantage of being a wetback or hiring one. There is no basis for optimism that the Mexican Government will agree to this new approach, but as soon as the matter has been fully explored within our Government the Department [Page 1348] will ask Ambassador White to discuss the subject with the Mexican Foreign Minister. At the same time, we might take up the question with Ambassador Tello.
If a new type of agreement does not prove feasible, the possibility of operating unilaterally may be explored. The Department of Labor would require additional legislative authority before this could be undertaken.
Either a new type of agreement or a unilateral operation would presumably route large numbers of potential wetbacks into legal channels. In so far as a disposition still existed on the part of employers to hire illegals or there remained a sizable number of applicants for whom work was not available, adequate enforcement machinery would continue to be essential.