69. Memorandum From Stephen Low of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • President’s Meeting with Echeverria—Handling the Illegal Immigrant Problem

One way of responding to the Mexicans’ problems on illegal immigrants would be to accept their proposal that we enter into an agreement to set a fixed quota of workers to be legally admitted to the U.S. each year on the condition that they would be responsible for keeping out any illegal movement beyond this number. The difficulty, however, [Page 226] is that we do not think the Mexicans could legally implement their side of the bargain or would be able to do so even if the legal impediment did not exist. We asked them in September to present their proposal to us in writing, but they have never done so. If they were to accept our condition, we would be entering into a new migrants agreement. The Justice and Labor Departments, as well as the labor movement, would be strongly opposed to this, particularly at this moment. We might be able to explain it to the labor movement eventually, but in view of our belief that the Mexicans would not enforce it, it would only cause us future problems in trying to get them to live up to their undertaking.

Another way of responding to the Mexicans would be by a combination of a positive explanation of the proposed Rodino Bill and agreeing to a proposal for a study commission of the development aspects of the long-range problem. As it now stands, the Rodino Bill has three pertinent provisions: it makes employment of illegal aliens a punishable act, but the enforcement provision is extremely weak; it would require the Labor Department either to furnish the laborers or certify entry of alien migrant workers within a 20-day period; and, finally it would legalize the status of illegal aliens who entered the U.S. prior to June, 1965. These provisions are based on a compromise worked out between the Justice Department, the AFL–CIO, and Senator Eastland (for the employers). It will be considered in Congress right after the recess and the parties are all concerned that premature publicity might make it difficult for labor, in particular, to accept. The Mexicans say that we really do need labor. Where this is the case, workers would be able to enter under the provisions of this Bill as it now stands.

President Ford can take the position that we should try out this law, which may be passed this year, and see whether it helps the situation, though they would have to be warned of the danger from premature publicity. If we add to that our willingness to study the longer range aspects of the problem, particularly as they relate to development of the regions from which the migrants are leaving, we may have as good a response to give the Mexicans as is possible.

  1. Summary: In preparation for a meeting between Ford and Echeverría, Low briefed Kissinger on possible ways to address the issue of illegal immigration, suggesting that Ford agree to the formation of a commission to study the subject.

    Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser Papers, NSC Latin American Affairs Staff Files, General Subject Files, Box 13, Trip—President’s Meeting with Echeverría of Mexico, October 21, 1974, 3. Confidential. Sent for action (briefing memo). A note on the memorandum reads: “The President has seen.” Low reviewed the state of play with respect to the immigration issue in an October 2 memorandum to Kissinger. (Ibid.) According to an October 19 memorandum of conversation among Kissinger, Bowdler, Low, William D. Rogers, and Dreyfuss, Rogers observed that “We really have no political give” on the issue of illegal immigration, and Bowdler informed Kissinger that Rabasa had backed off earlier statements that Mexico would undertake to reduce the number of illegal migrants to the United States upon the conclusion of a new bracero agreement. Kissinger predicted that Echeverría would “talk about the Charter, non-alignment, friendship for the U.S.” at the bilateral meetings “and then make a public speech unfriendly to the U.S. and say he didn’t mean it but had to do it for domestic consumption.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P820121–2515)