Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs ( Cabot )



  • Mexican Wetback Problem
  • Participants: Mr. J. Lee Rankin, Assistant Attorney General
  • Mr. John M. Cabot, Assistant Secretary of State

I called on Assistant Attorney General Rankin by appointment with regard to the Mexican wetback problem and we discussed the various considerations underlying it. At the end of the discussion, Mr. Rankin proposed that it might be possible to make an arrangement more or less along the following lines. The United States would establish, for Mexican-born citizens crossing into the U.S, arrangements substantially similar to those now prevailing for Canadians at the Canadian border. Mexicans coming into the U.S. for legitimate reasons other than employment would have no further formalities to face. Those seeking employment would be required to go to Department of Labor offices which would arrange with farmer associations to see that the applicants were sent to places where labor was required. The applicants for labor would be required to pay prevailing wage rates, provide proper housing, food and other working conditions and pay for transportation. By requiring evidence that labor had been legally obtained and refusing income tax deductions in the absence of such evidence, the employers could be forced to employ legitimate labor. On the other hand, the requirement that Mexicans seeking employment go to Labor offices would provide a means of choking off immigrant labor in the event that unemployment should become serious again in the U.S. American labor should be satisfied that wages and working conditions [Page 1349] would be less depressed by this condition than by the easy influx of wetbacks. The Mexican Government might not be altogether pleased but it could scarcely object to our permitting the entry of Mexican citizens under easy conditions, and the responsibility for preventing Mexicans from leaving Mexico to seek employment in the U.S. would not only be its own, but also might be one which it would be unwilling to take. I said, however, that I did not think that the Mexicans would permit us to put labor recruiting officers in Mexico under such an arrangement. Mr. Rankin will examine this with Labor and wanted to have our considered views of it.

It was understood on both sides that the entire conversation was tentative and exploratory and was held in view of the danger that we may find it impossible to negotiate any satisfactory bracero agreement or solve the wetback problem.