57. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The Acting Secretary’s Lunch for Foreign Secretary Rabasa—The Problem of Illegal Mexican Workers in the U.S.


  • Foreign—MEXICO

    • Emilio O. Rabasa—Secretary of Foreign Relations
    • Jose Juan de Olloqui—Ambassador of Mexico
  • United States

    • Kenneth Rush—Acting Secretary
    • Ambassador Porter—Under Secretary for Political Affairs
    • Ambassador Tapley Bennett—USUN
    • Martin Herz—Deputy Assistant Secretary, IO
    • Robert A. Hurwitch—Acting Assistant Secretary, ARA
    • Harry W. Shlaudeman—Deputy Assistant Secretary, ARA

Continuing the conversation which began in the Acting Secretary’s office, (MemCon of the 12:30 meeting, July 9) Secretary Rabasa referred to the status of illegal Mexican workers in the U.S. as one of the two overriding problems Mexico has with this country—the other being salinity of Colorado River water. He said the current state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue; progress must be made on this problem as it is being made on salinity. He recalled the communiqué issued by Presidents Nixon and Echeverria last June, and the resulting agreement to establish a commission on each side to study the problem. Secretary Rabasa noted that the study groups will meet on July 16. He said it would be a waste of time and contrary to the spirit of the Presidents’ communiqué if the U.S. group comes only “to listen.” He asked “officially” that our group be prepared to consider concrete proposals with a view to making recommendations.

Secretary Rush emphasized that we attach equal importance to the problem and, in particular, find the exploitation of illegal Mexican [Page 187] workers repugnant. Measures can be taken within the U.S. to discourage the use of illegal laborers. (Rabasa subsequently commented that on balance he did not find the Rodino Bill a step forward since it would in his judgement be as hard on the illegal immigrant as on the illegal employer.) The Acting Secretary said we would give careful consideration to such proposals as might be made.

During the ensuing discussion Secretary Rabasa indicated some points that might be incorporated in Mexican proposals:

(a) A method should be found to regularize the status of long-term illegal Mexican immigrants; i.e., those who have lived here for a number of years and are responsible, productive members of their communities. (It was pointed out to Secretary Rabasa that legislation would be required for any such “regularization.”)

(b) A new program should be instituted to import temporary Mexican laborers on the basis of “certificates of necessity.” Secretary Rabasa indicated that it would be acceptable as the lesser of two evils to permit payment of less than the U.S. minimum wage to such laborers. He added that he would not want to be quoted on that point and could never concede it publicly.

(c) Arrangements should be made to permit Mexican consuls to furnish protection to illegal immigrants.

The Acting Secretary pointed out some of the difficulties we would encounter:

(a) Political realities flowing from a 4.8% unemployment rate in the U.S. would arouse extremely strong opposition from organized labor and in the Congress to any new “bracero” program. It would clearly be impossible to exempt Mexican laborers from the requirements of our minimum wage legislation. Widespread public sentiment and the traditions of our country would not permit such discrimination.

(b) The proposal to import temporary workers offers no apparent relief to the constant flow of illegal immigrants. They would simply keep coming despite such a program. There is no assurance that even a state of “saturation” in the labor market would effectively discourage the flow as long as the disparity between our two economies exists and as long as unscrupulous employers are willing to use illegal workers at substandard wages.

(c) The argument that the unavailability of illegal workers would automatically create a labor shortage in the agricultural industry is open to question. The economics involved are more complex. For example, one result might be increased mechanization.

The Acting Secretary concluded with the assurance that the U.S. Government wishes to do whatever may be possible to improve this serious situation while recognizing that a final solution will depend on such factors as the development of Mexico’s economy and is not a prospect over the short term.

  1. Summary: In a conversation with Acting Secretary of State Kenneth Rush, Rabasa expressed interest in reaching an agreement that would regularize the status of Mexican illegal immigrants in the United States and establish a program for temporary laborers from Mexico. Rush responded that there were obstacles that would make the conclusion of such an agreement difficult but that the U.S. Government wished to do whatever might be possible to address the issue.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–1973, POL MEX–US. Confidential. Drafted by Shlaudeman. Approved by Rush on July 12. The earlier discussion in the Deputy Secretary’s office is recorded in a separate memorandum of conversation. (Ibid.)