Alien Registration and Deportation Bills Denounced at New York Luncheon
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Alien Registration and Deportation Bills Denounced at New York Luncheon

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A movement to oppose the enaciment of the bills for the registration of aliens and the extension of the grounds for the deportation of resident aliens was started at a luncheon meeting held Saturday at the Astor Hotel, called to discuss a bill introduced by Congressman Aswell of Louisiana (H. R. 3383), for the registration of aliens and bills H. R. 314 and H. R. 4489 introduced by Congressman Johnson of Washington.

The meeting was called by a joint committee consisting of representatives of the Conference on Immigration Policy, the Department of City, Immigration and Industrial Work, Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. the Deparment of Immigration and Foreign Communities. National Board of the Young Women’s Christian Associations, the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society of America, the League for American Citizenship, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Department of Immigrant Aid of the National Council of Jewish Women. Sherwood Eddy, chairman of the Fellowship for Christian Social Order, presided.

Walter Lippman, editor of the New York “World” was the first speaker. He was followed by Louis Marshall and Rev. Charles K. Gilbert, Executive Secretary of the Social Service Commission of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. Senator Royal S. Copeland, who was scheduled to speak was prevented from attending, due to an automobile accident. In a message to the meeting the Senator stated he was opposed to these bills.

The proposed bills were termed un-American and opposed to the principle of justice in messages read from Alfred E. Smith. Governor of New York Oscar S. Suaus, former United States Ambassador to Turkey, William Green. president of the American Federation of Labor, and others.


A resolution which was unanimously adopted. read:

“Whereas, the Alien Registration Bill and the Alien Deportation Bills (H. R. 3383-344-4489) now before Congress are contrary to the spirit of our constitution and constitute a distinct departure from the uniform policy of our government and its liberal traditions, and are a direct encroachment upon the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution to all persons residing in the United States.

“Now. therefore, we citizens of the United States present at a meeting called by Conference on Immigration Policy, Department of City. Immigrant and Industrial Work. Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. Department of Immigrant and Foreign Communities. National Board of the Young Women’s Christian Associations. Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society of American. League for American Citizenship, American Civil Liberties Union, Department of Immigrant Aid. National Council of Jewish Women. do protest against the enactment of these bills into laws, and

“We do further resolve that a copy of this resolution be sent to the Committees on Immigration and Naturalization of the United States Senate and of the House of Representatives.”

Rev. Charles K. Gilbert declared that he speaks as a minister of the Christian Church in declaring that these bills would be a violation of the principle of common humanity. “These proposed bills are a shameful and tragic mockery upon all our talk about the essential virtues which have their origin and sanction in the Golden Rule.”

Following the chairman’s remarks Mr. Lippman addressed the gathering.

“I think it is just as well to say at the outser that in principle, though not as to detail or practice, I am in favor of the existing immigration policy. I am not speaking here today as the advocate of free and uncontrolled immigration,” Mr. Lippman stated. “I do not challenge the right of Congress to exclude, and I accept the necessity and the wisdom of a policy of drastic restriction.

“I believe in the general principle of the quota system, and like Mr. Eddy, I should like to see it particularly extended to include the Japanese.

“I believe that when the period of free land came to an end in this country, a policy of restricted immigration was inevitable, and that when the breakdown of the economic structure in Europe came, after the war, a policy of stringent limitation became at least temporarily imperative.

“I recongnize also the great difficulties which any administration must encounter which attempts to enforce a policy of limitation and exclusion, and I accept as probably true the statements, minimized from what seemed to be obvious exaggerations, that there are a considerable number of aliens in this country in violation of the law.


“I understand from reading the President’s recent message that he is beginning to look with some favor upon the proposal to register all aliens in the United States annually because he regards it as possibly a necessary measure to detect those who are here in violation of the law.

“I trust the President before he commits himself finally to this policy will take counsel not of his Secretary of Labor and not of the fears which are so rampant in Congress, but of those who have had the longest experience with the immigrant populations of the United States.

“I think a little more careful consideration will make it evident that this proposal is unsound in principle. I am opposed to enforce effectively and honestly a highly dangerous proposal to the peace of the country. For it is a proposal which says that because there are a certain number of aliens in this country who have no right to be here, every alien must prove annually that he has a right to be here. It is like saying that because a certain number of business men violate the Sherman Anti-Trust Law, that every business man shall be compelled every year to go before some Government official and prove he has not violated the Sherman Anti-Trust Law. It is like saying because a certain number of citizens of the United States commit murder that every one of us should be compelled to go before the District Attorney annually and prove we have not committed murder.

“I say the thing is unsound in principle because when the alien is in the United States, the presumption must be that he has a right to be here.

“The burden of proof is on the Government and it is not the business of an innocent man to prove every year that he is an innocent man.

“It is the duty of the Government to detect the guilty and to prosecute them. I go further. A law of this kind will certainly fail to reach those whom it is designed to reach. It seems to me obvious that if an alien is clever enough and unscrupulous enough to get across the border of the United States, he will be clever enough and unscrupulous enough to evade registration, to forge certificates, to bribe public officials, to secure political protection or to steal certificates of registration. I don’t see how any one can be so innocent as to suppose that the bootlegged immigrant, so called, is likely to go and register himself or go up and show why he shouldn’t be allowed to register.

“Suppose you passed a law saying that all bootleggers in the United States should register annually, how much would that help you? The whole proposal reminds me of a remark that Bernard Shaw made when somebody told him that a visitor to the United States was asked whether he was a polygamist. He said, ‘That is fine, and I suppose that insures if he is a polygamist, he shall also be a liar and a hypocrite.’

“Let us look for a moment at the details of one of these bills. I have here the bill introduced by Mr. Aswell, a Congressman from Louisiana. Mr. Aswell is a man who feels that the Post Office of the United States hasn’t enough to do delivering letters. So he proposed a bill to make it a governess and chaperon of the alien population. Mr. Aswell would like each alien to register himself and pay ten dollars the first time and five dollars every succeeding time every year. He is to register all his children between the ages of 16 and 21 and pay $3 apiece for them.

“He is then to receive a certificate of identification from a benevolent and watchful government but having done all that, he is by no means through with the business of registering.


“If he moves from Brooklyn to the Bronx, he has to report to the Post Office in Brooklyn before he moves and to the Post Office in the Bronx after he gets there. If he goes away on a pleasure trip he has to report to the Post Office and tell where he is going and why he is going, and when he will be back.

“He has to carry a certificate of identification around with him and be ready to show it at any time to any agent of the Department of Labor, to any state, territorial or local police officer or any other busybody designated by the President of the United States.

“He has to have entered on his record a list of all the times he has been arrested, all the times he has been convicted and any other information that the Secretary of Labor thinks he ought to supply.

“If the alien is a woman, she has to report her marriage to the Post Office if she changes her name. Presumably if she belongs to the Lucy Stone League she is left out of that.

“Moreover, under Section 14 of this comprehensive Act, whenever the physical appearance of an alien is changed materially, he is to go and report that fact.

“If he or she goes to a hospital, that fact has got to be reported to the Post Office. If he goes into an asylum or prison that has to be reported and for failure to do any of these things he may be fined $100 or imprisoned for sixty days and if he swears falsely in any of these things, he may be fined $5,000, imprisoned for two years and then deported.

“All these records have to he made out in the Post Office in duplicate, then filed in some central place and the alien has to carry around papers with his picture and finger prints on them and any one of several thousand government officials can stop him any time, day or night, and say, “Where are your papers?” and if he hasn’t got them and they are not in order, he is in trouble and it is his duty to prove his innocence.

“The burden of all this red tape falls on the seven million aliens who have every legal right to be here. It falls hardly at all on the minority who have no right to be here. It, therefore, seems to me obvious that this is a bill to harrass, annoy and blackmail a great mass of innocent people.

“I have said that the main burden would fall upon the alien. Perhaps I have been a little optimistic. If every alien can be stopped by anybody at any time and asked to produce his papers, what am I going to do, if, for example, I go down to Mr. Aswell’s state–Louisiana–and somebody stops me on the street and says, ‘Where are your papers?’ Suppose I say to the man, ‘I don’t have to have any papers. I was born in the United States’?

“Suppose he says to me, ‘How do I know you were born in the United States? Prove it.’

“I say, ‘I’m very sorry but I don’t carry my birth certificate around with me.’

“He would say, ‘Well, that is very nice but I have heard that before. You come over to the judge and explain that.’

“Will Mr. Aswell bail me out or will he next propose a bill to register all citizens so that they shall have proof that it is not necessary for them to register?

“I believe that the sponsors of this scheme hope to collect by it some $35,000,000 annually (applause) and that they propose to devote that money to what they call the education and Americanizing of the immigrant. I would like to say that they know nothing about education or Americanization for if any one can think of a worse way of teaching a stranger in a strange land to respect this government than this way, I don’t know what it is.

“The alien will learn about the government what he experiences of the government and this measure will teach him that the government of the United States is an annoying, meddlesome, inefficient and corrupt machine, fundamentally hostile to him. He is bound to feel in his personal experience what a nuisance this law is. He is bound to see and to know hundreds of cases of corruption, favoritism and evasion, and if he is anything like the native stock of this country faced with the Volstead Act, he will not feel that evasion is a very serious crime.

“Above all this proposal is a reflection upon the sensibilities of native Americans. There is no surer test of the quality of a man’s character or the quality of a civilization than its attitude toward the stranger within its gates,” Mr. Lippman declared.


Mr. Marshall, who followed Mr. Lippman, said:

“I believe in selective immigration, and we have had the best selective immigration law upon our statute books during the past ten or fifteen years that has ever been enacted anywhere. It excluded those mentally, morally, and physically unfit, those who would be likely to become public charges. There we should have left it. We would have had in this country only those who, like their predecessors from foreign countries, would become part of the bone and sinew of the land, men and women bound by their own interests, bound by their duty to the country which received them hospitably, to do their utmost to maintain its traditions and its institutions.

“But a new policy has been enacted, based not upon merit, but based upon ancestry, and not only real ancestry, but mythical ancestry. A person must have been a Nordic in order to come into the United States. Now, that is the secret of the bill which has been discussed by Mr. Lippman, the Alien Registration Law and its sister iniquity, the Deportation Law, both of which are now before Congress and are being pressed to a passage.

“The Aswell Act has been presented to you not by way of frony. There has been absolutely no exaggeration in the statement made by Mr. Lippmann with regard to the contents of that Act. He has stated its provisions literally and it is so utterly absurd that one would suppose that no intelligent man would dare to present such a measure to the Congress of the United States. But it has been done. It is the per measure of the distinguished Secretary of Labor, Mr. Davis, who, in a report which he presented to Congress the other day with regard to immigration stated that that measure is the panacea of all our ills.

“Sixty years ago, when I was a boy in search of literature, I used to go to the drug store every January and get Ayers and Hostetter’s calendars and almanacs. There I read of what sarsaparilla would do and what Hostetter’s Bitters would do for the human race. It would eliminate every ill. That is exactly what this Aswell Bill proposes to do.

“I think that it would have been even more humorous if Mr. Lippman had read what the Secretary said with regard to the merits of that measure than to have stated just what the measure does. Why, reading between the lines, as the reading is done by our distinguished Secretary of Labor, we learn that this bill is intended to educate the immigrant; that it is intended to look after his sanitary condition, intended also to improve the health of the public of the United States. It is intended to wipe out Socialism, Communism and anarchy, disloyalty, and all those terrible crimes and the only way to accomplish it is by these methods which you have heard described and which are practically read out of this law.


“Now the distinguished Secretary forgot one or two things. He forgot what he had said on several occasions before the public and what he has said right here in this report. He always says it: That he was an immigrant himself, that he came from Wales with his father and mother and five brothers and sisters. That, of course makes him something other than a Nordic. but he has been adopted into the Nordic tribe. He says unfortunnately his parents were illiterate. they were unable to get an education in the foreign land and they have never yet although they have been in this country for forty years been able to learn how to read and write. Why doesn’t he begin with education in his own family?

“He is always trying to educate the other man: that is what we are all trying to do. There has been no difficulty in educating the immigrant in the past, there has been no difficulty in educating adult immigrants. We have here, in the City of New York, organizations which have been devoted to the education of the immigrant like the Educational Alliance for instance and other similar organizations, and our Public Schools take care of the immigrant in the same way, the adult immigrant at night school. But Mr. Aswell, who comes from the South, is very anxious that there should be education of the immigrant. Now I will make this statement and prove its accuracy by a reference to statistics gathered by the Census Department, that there is more illiteracy to the square inch among the native residents in the Southern States than there is in the whole of the United States which is populated by the immigrants.

“But they want them to learn to read English and to write English and to speak English. Well, I think an immigrant in the City of New York after five years is able to speak English better than some of the gentlemen in the South who were born here and certainly are able to read more languages than the majority of the people in the South would be able to learn. They do not only read “The World” but they also read “Die Welt” any language you please. They read languages and they get their education in various languages and taking them as a mass, there is less ignorance and less illiteracy among them than among those who are furthering these measures.

“It is unnecessary to point out the evils of this Aswell bill. The statement of its contents is sufficient to do so. It would mean the continued harassment of the immigrant of the alien and as has been pointed out not only by those who have come from abroad, who have been naturalized, and that is not an idle statement.

“Let me pass to that sister iniquity, the Deportation Bill. The two go hand in hand. The distinguished Secretary of Labor is not sufficiently satisfied with registration, but he wants something that will enable him to make that evil one which will blossom into great good for those who desire to get rid of the immigrant. That is deportation. By the one act they try to get evidence against the immigrant and by the other act they try to oust the immigrant from this country.


“That deportation measure is the favorite measure of Representative Johnson of Washington. He has been talking about that in season and out of season. I shall not attempt to go through all of its provisions, but the substance of it is this: that at any time an immigration inspector (salary $1800 a year) (laughter) comes to the conclusion that any person is an alien, an unnaturalized alien, and he thinks that he has come to this country irregularly, that he did not observe to the letter every one of the numerous provisions in the Immigration Law, that he has become or is likely to become a public charge, that he may at some time or other have been arrested, while a boy, for stealing apples, he may bring that man before himself. (Laughter).

“Mr. Immigration Commissioner becomes at once a judicial officer. He is to determine the fate of the man whom he has arrested and brought before himself. He now becomes examining counsel. He begins to bully-rag the individual, to apply the third degree. He tries to get such evidence as he may from other persons. He makes a record such as he pleases of the facts which he thus elicits. He then presents those facts with his conclusion to the Secretary of Labor. The Secretary of Labor submits that to a clerk (salary $2400) to consider as to whether or not, upon the face of the papers, there is sufficient ground for the deportation of that individual. He then decides that the person is to be deported.

“Is there any hearing before a court? No. Is there any right to a hearing before a court? No. That decision is a finality and therefore in effect this immigration inspector can determine the fate of any man, woman or child (except a Nordic) in the United States and send him abroad separating him from his family, and putting him in exile.

“There never has been anything more shocking than that in our legislation. It is practically allowing one official to determine whether or not a person is entitled to remain in this country without any possible chance to review his determination.

“That is not irony. That is a plain statement of fact, and the criticism has never been answered.

“Yet that Johnson Bill passed the House at the last session and they tried to jam it through the Senate without a hearing or an opportunity for anybody to appear in opposition to that measure. They failed. Now they are trying it again.

“But that is not all.

“In the law we have what is known as a Statute of Limitations. Except in the case of murder, after five years in the state (three years in some states), under the laws of the United States there can be no prosecution even for a heinous offense, the theory being that after that time it may be difficult for a person charged with crime to produce his witnesses, and it may also be difficult for the government to produce its evidence. But it is largely a law based upon clemency and mercy.

“That is so even in the case of a criminal. The Deportation Law that we now have is stringent enough, God knows. In that law, however, there is a limitation, and that limitation is five years, and the theory is that after a person has been in the country for five years, whatever he may have been abroad, he has, at any rate imbibed the virtue of his surroundings and is presumptively at least, entitled to remain here.

“This law wipes out entirely the Statute of Limitations. A person may have been in this country as an industrious, hard-working man for twenty years. He may have met with an accident. He is approaching middle age or old age–they say as a result of that Act he will not be able to support himself further. He has given his best years and his best energies to the industrial life of this country. They say he is likely to become a public charge, and, therefore, after twenty years, he is to be deported.


“That is only one illustration. There may be others, many others, but the point is simply this: Is it thinkable that in a country like ours, there shouldn’t be a time when the past shall be overlooked or forgotten, even if there are irregularities, as long as the man remains in this country, of which he has become a part, and is in mind and soul, at least, an American?

“Is it possible that Americans true to the old traditions of this country shall look with patience upon such an attempt to reverse those policies that have really made the America that we love and that we cherish?”

Sherwood Eddy, Chairman, concluded the meeting with a statement in which he declared:

“I object to the registry and deportation of aliens on the following grounds:

(1) “It is Reactionary. It seems to mark a trend or tendency of the times toward the steady abridgement of our traditional liberties.

(2) “It is Unconstitutional class legislation to which we would object, and to which we have objected in the past, when applied to ourselves. How would our business men, missionaries or Americans residing abroad for health object if they were forced to register and to become citizens of another country. A man representing one of our large business corporations or a missionary society would not wish to forfeit his American citizenship and be forced to become a German, a Russian or a Japanese subject. Such action was protested by our own State Department when a substantial penalty was involved. (See Moore’s International Law Digest, 316-318.) President Roosevelt well stated our own American position in his Presidential message of 1906: ‘Not only must we treat all nations fairly, but we must treat with justice and good will all immigrants who come here under the law. Whether they are Catholic or Protestant, Jew or Gentile; whether they come from England or Germany, Russia, Japan, or Italy, matters nothing. All we have a right to question is the man’s conduct. If he is honest and upright in his dealings with his neighbors and with the State, then he is entitled to respect and good treatment. Especially do we need to remember our duty to the stranger within our gates. It is the sure mark of a low civilization, a low morality, to abuse or discriminate against or in any way humiliate such stranger who has come here lawfully and who is conducting himself properly’.

(3) “Such legislation is unjust, impracticable and impossible of fulfillment. If we have often failed to keep our inspectors at Ellis Island in order and have had to reduce the scandals there by persecution and imprisonment of some of our officials, even when under close supervision at that one spot, how could we supervise a vast army of men scattered among these seven million aliens and with every temptation for blackmail, bribery and favoritism?

(4) “It would be self-defeating. It will alienate the alien and be provocative of ill will. Forced citizenship and forced Americanization breed suspicion, as we have recently had occasion to observe. The Chamber of Commerce of the United States, in its memorandum submitted by the Immigration Committee in January, 1924, points out that ‘only a minority would register voluntarily, so a large force of detectives would be necessary to round up the rest. They view with alarm possible abuses of power by this force. They believe that compulsory registration would breed in the unregistered majority an outlaw attitude of mind which would make them ready converts to propaganda of discontent.’

(5) “Such legislation would add to law evasion and lawlessness already rampant and growing in our country. Are we so proud of the record we have made in the enforcement or lack of enforcement of our dry laws that we wish further to clog the overcrowded courts with petty cases and to bound the foreigner into an attitude of distrust and resentment. Are we proud of the disgraceful record of Philadelphia and a hundred cities where laws are flagrantly, openly and defiantly violated?

(6) “Will not such registration be the thin end of the wedge toward the registration of all Americans and militarization of our citizens, and the gradual abridgment of our liberties? Secretary Kellogg, in his speech in New York in the middle of December, tells us that we, as Americans, still have the right of free speech. How long shall we have it? Samuel Gompers and the Federation of Labor of this country have placed themselves squarely against such proposed legislation. Mr. Gompers wrote: ‘The American Federation of Labor is opposed to the registration of aliens proposal. If foreigners who come to this country are germanized, it will not be long before the citizens of the United States will be compelled to register. Then will follow the fingerprinting of every citizen, as suggested by Mr. W. J. Burns.

(7) “Such legislation would add to race prejudice, to espionage and to class division. It would be doubtless approved by the most reactionary, headed orders, like the man who put on his sign, ‘I am 200 per cent American. I hate everybody.’ Such legislation will further divide our communities. Let us not forfeit our dearly won Anglo-Saxon tradition of liberty, dating from the Magna Charta–All men … have and hold the aforesaid liberties, rights and concessions. . . to them and their heirs, of us and our heirs in all things and places, forever.’ Let us not forget that our ancestors came to this country to escape just such tyranny of state and church. Three great ideals stand out unmistakably as the very foundation of America’s life–Liberty, Justice and Democracy. The nation was ‘conceived in Liberty’ and was founded in justice with the ideal of equal laws for all. The Mayflower Compact of the Pilgrim Fathers was formed to enact. just and equal laws. . . for the general good.’ In the New England Confederation, 1643, the colonists state: ‘We all came to these parts of America. . . to enjoy the liberties of the Gospel in purity with peace.’

“Thus, with all the earnestness in our power we protest against and oppose such proposed legislation to register and deport aliens because we believe it is un-American and untrue to our traditional ideals, because it will arouse the hostility of most of the 7,000,000 half enfranchised foreigners already here, and because it will lead inevitably to strained relations with the nations of Europe, Asia and Latin America.”

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