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



  • Entry of Mexican Agricultural Workers into the United States
  • Participants: The President
  • Señor Don Manuel Tello, Ambassador of Mexico
  • Mr. J. Lee Rankin, Assistant Attorney General
  • Mr. John M. Cabot, Assistant Secretary

After an exchange of courtesies, the Mexican Ambassador said that he brought a very cordial personal message from President Ruiz Cortines to President Eisenhower. He said that President Ruiz Cortines was disturbed that it had been impossible to reach an agreement in regard to the entry of Mexican agricultural workers into the United States and that he felt that this was a matter which should be possible to settle between reasonable men given goodwill on each side.

[Page 1355]

The President expressed his great pleasure in receiving President Ruiz Cortines’ message and in his turn asked the Ambassador to convey his warm personal greetings to President Ruiz Cortines. He said that he fully agreed with the latter’s views and asked what the essential difficulty was.

The Ambassador said that the only trouble was with regard to wages. He said that it seemed there was a wide area of agreement between the two governments: the Mexican agricultural laborers wanted to come to the United States; American farmers wanted and needed them; the Mexican Government wanted its workers to receive fair pay; the American Government also wanted them to receive fair pay because otherwise the wages of American workers would be depressed; both sides wanted to stop the illegal entry of many Mexican workers. If only the question of wages could be ironed out, the Ambassador said, he thought our difficulties would be solved.

The President expressed some surprise at this. He said that he quite agreed that Mexican workers should be paid fair wages in our interest as well as theirs. Mr. Cabot pointed out that the more difficult question was to get an agreement which really worked in practice. The American farmers wanted to get Mexican labor at as little expense and trouble as possible and Mexican labor was perfectly willing to enter illegally and receive lower rates than those paid legal entrants. Both the American and Mexican Governments wanted to stop this but, like the prohibition law, it was right in theory but did not work out in practice. The question was how to get the illegal entrants into legal channels both for their own protection and for that of the United States. Mr. Cabot emphasized that we would prefer to have a bilateral agreement to the present arrangement.

The President referred jokingly to the troubles in enforcing the prohibition amendment and then again emphasized our willingness to negotiate at an early date and his confidence that with a conciliatory spirit on both sides it should be possible for representatives of two great governments to get together on an agreed plan. He said that maybe it would be wise if new faces could negotiate for both sides, since those who had negotiated earlier had taken positions from which it might be difficult to recede. He of course was not placing any blame on either side in the past negotiations, but merely suggesting that this might be a means conducive to an agreement.

The Ambassador expressed his sincere thanks to the President and, after reiterating again his point in regard to wages, he together with Mr. Rankin and Mr. Cabot departed.

Following the discussion, Mr. Cabot said that he had not appreciated that the Mexican Ambassador considered the wage question the real point at issue. Under our law the Secretary of Labor could not agree [Page 1356] to a given wage scale but could simply determine what the prevailing wage was. The Ambassador pulled out Ambassador White’s memorandum regarding the agreement and pointed to the first sentence of the paragraph on the determination of wages. He said that under this the Secretary of Labor, favoring the farmer, might fix a very low wage. Mr. Cabot pointed out that that was not at all his understanding of Ambassador White’s purpose, that on the contrary the Secretary of Labor by determining the prevailing wage in a determined locality protected the Mexican worker from exploitation, since in the absence of such determination the Mexican laborer having no organization might accept much less than the prevailing wage. On the other hand, the Secretary of Labor had no authority under our law to negotiate regarding wages to be paid. Ambassador Tello pointed out that in most of the areas where the Mexicans were employed the great majority of workers were of Mexican origin and the prevailing wage rates, therefore, tended to be low and would be affected by the entrance of workers from Mexico. He suggested that maybe the laws could be amended to read more or less “not less than the prevailing wages”. Mr. Cabot said that we would study sympathetically any proposals which the Mexicans might care to make, particularly for an interim agreement. Both Mr. Cabot and the Ambassador expressed the hope that a fresh start could be made toward reaching an agreement and departed on that note.