Immigration and Deportation

April 18, 1939

A document from the CQ Researcher archives:

Report Outline
Pending Proposals to Amend Immigration Laws
Development of American Immigration Policy
Trends in European Immigration, 1921–1938
Deportation Policies of Federal Government

Pending Proposals to Amend Immigration Laws

Mounting Apprehension over the spread of non-democratic political doctrines among foreign-born groups in the United States has resulted in the introduction in Congress of a flood of proposals not only for the regulation of the activities of alien political groups but for drastic modification of existing immigration and deportation statutes. One such measure, offered by Rep. Dempsey (D., N. M.), was approved by unanimous vote of the House, without debate, on March 23, although it had been vigorously condemned by the American Civil Liberties Union.1 The Dempsey bill, now under consideration by the Senate Immigration Committee, provides for the exclusion or deportation of aliens who believe in or advocate, or who are affiliated with an organization that believes in or advocates, “the making of any changes in the American form of government”2

Other proposals for modification of federal immigration and deportation laws include a bill offered by Rep. Pace (D., Ga.) for a complete stoppage of immigration next December 31 and for deportation of all aliens in the country on that date, a bill sponsored by Senator Reynolds (D., N. C.) and Rep. Starnes (D., Ala.) providing for immediate deportation of “any alien or group of aliens whose presence in the United States is inimical to the public interest,” several proposals for reduction of existing immigration quotas, and numerous measures for registration and fingerprinting of aliens.

Grounded on a growing fear of “hyphenism” and alien political agitation, most of the pending proposals for changes in the immigration laws call for more stringent restrictions than those now in force. At the same time, however, the spread of fascism in Europe and the intensification of oppressive measures against racial and political minorities in fascist countries has led to the introduction of a number of proposals for lifting existing barriers against immigration. Chief among proposals of this type are the bill sponsored by Senator Wagner (D., N. Y.) and Rep. Rogers (R., Mass.) to allow 20,000 German refugee children to enter the United States during the next two years and a bill by Rep, Celler (D., N. Y.) which would authorize the President to modify existing immigration quotas where necessary to permit the admission of political, racial, or religious refugees from foreign countries.

Call for General Revision of Immigration Policy

The volume of current legislative proposals dealing with immigration and deportation reflects the vast changes that have taken place in world political and economic conditions since the present immigration law was enacted in 1924. Recognition that these changes necessitate corresponding shifts in the immigration policy of the United States has given rise to demands in Congress that the whole immigration problem be made the subject of a thorough investigation to lay the foundation for comprehensive revision of existing laws.

A resolution to authorize such an investigation, offered by Rep. Schulte (D., Ind.) on March 27, is now under consideration in the House Rules Committee. Under the terms of the resolution, the House Immigration Committee would be directed: (1) To study all statutes, executive orders, and regulations relating to immigration, deportation, naturalization, and expatriation and to codify existing statutes and orders on each of these subjects, with such changes as it deemed necessary; (2) to investigate the unlawful entry and smuggling of aliens into the country; and (3) “to conduct such other necessary studies as may be helpful to Congress in establishing new legislative policies” on immigration and related problems. The committee would be authorized to act between sessions, to subpena witnesses, to hold hearings anywhere in the United States, and to obtain the technical assistance of the Departments of State, Justice, and Labor.

Go to top

Development of American Immigration Policy

Dominance of Asylum Principle After Revolution

From the end of the American Revolution to the close of the Civil War, the dominant principle of the immigration policy of the United States was that of offering asylum to those peoples of the Old World who were suffering from political and economic oppression. This principle was later expressed on the base of the Statute of Liberty in New York Harbor by the words, “Send us your masses yearning to be free.”

During the first three decades after the establishment of the federal government, some 250,000 immigrants came to the United States, most of them from northern and western Europe. And from 1820 to 1860, in spite of the objections of the Native American (“Know Nothing”) political party to what was described as “increasing foreign influence,” more than 5,000,000 persons migrated to the New World. Most of the immigrants during this period came from Ireland, where the potato famine of 1846–47 had left widespread suffering in its wake, and from Germany, where civil war had created a large group of political refugees.

Beginnings of Restriction Movement After Civil War

After the Civil War, the idea that the United States should serve as a place of refuge for the oppressed peoples of other lands continued to prevail, but American immigration policy began increasingly to be governed by economic considerations. In response to the demands of a rising industrial society for an expanding labor supply, Congress in 1864 passed “An Act to Encourage Immigration” under which immigrants were given permission to assign their wages or encumber their lands for periods up to 12 months to defray the expenses of their passage. The same law authorized government officials to aid immigrants by arranging details of transportation. The law was repealed in 1968, but for several years afterward——until the depression of 1873——the federal government continued to publish official documents containing information to aid immigrants in reaching this country.

Between 1866 and 1914, a period of less than 50 years, about 26,313,000 aliens were admitted to the United States in what was probably the largest migration of peoples in the history of the world. Paralleling the expansion of American industry, the annual volume of European immigration rose steadily until, in 1907, it exceeded 1,285,000 persons. The annual volume averaged more than 1,000,000 persons during the entire decade 1905–1914.

Congress took the first important step to curb the flow of immigration in 1882. In that year, a general immigration act was passed which, in addition to suspending immigration of Chinese laborers for a period of 10 years, defined certain classes of “undesirables” to be excluded from the country. In 1885 and 1887, legislation forbidding the importation of contract labor was enacted at the insistence of the trade unions, which pointed out that the employment in this country of laborers bound by contracts entered into with employers abroad was a threat to American wage standards.

For two decades after 1897, however, bills proposing literacy tests for immigrants were successively vetoed by Presidents Cleveland, Taft, and Wilson on the ground that such legislation would contravene the traditional American immigration policy. In vetoing a bill passed by Congress in 1897 requiring all immigrants to be able to read, Cleveland declared that such a provision would bar many worthy immigrants, while failing to keep out agitators. A literacy test bill vetoed by President Taft in 1913 was repassed in the Senate but fell four votes short of obtaining the required two-thirds majority in the House. President Wilson vetoed a literacy test bill in 1915, but a second veto was overridden two years later, and the ability to read 30 or 40 words of English or some other language became a basic requirement for admission into the United States.

Restriction of Immigration Through Quotas in 1921

The outbreak of the World War greatly reduced the flow of immigration to the United States. In 1918, only about 111,000 persons entered the country——fewer than in any previous year since 1862——and in 1919, before ocean transportation had been adjusted to peacetime conditions, the number of immigrants was only about 141,000. In 1920, however, the number rose to 430,000, and reports began to circulate that prospective immigrants bottled up in Europe during the war threatened to flood the United States in such large numbers as to overtax the capacity of the country to receive them. Consular officers in Czechoslovakia, England, Italy, the Netherlands, Serbia, Spain, Turkey, and Poland reported that millions were waiting for ships to carry them across the Atlantic. The Commissioner of Immigration at the Port of New York estimated that Italy was preparing to send 5,000,000 and Germany 8,000,000 immigrants to the United States.

Although these reports are now known to have been greatly exaggerated, they were seized upon by groups favoring restrictive legislation as proving the need for a sharp curb on immigration. The restrictionists argued also that the change in the character of immigration in the years before the World War had made the problem of assimilation increasingly difficult. From 1820 to 1883, it was estimated, more than 90 per cent of the total immigration from Europe had come from the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the Scandinavian countries. After 1883, the countries of southern and eastern Europe became the chief sources of immigration. In 1917, more than 80 per cent of all European immigrants came from Austria-Hungary, the Balkan states, Greece, Italy, Russia, Poland, Spain, Syria, and Turkey.

When Congress met in December, 1920, the country was suffering from a severe economic depression, which was an important contributing factor to the demand for immigration restriction. In February, 1921, both houses approved a bill proposing to limit the number of aliens who might be admitted during the next fiscal year to 3 per cent of the number of foreign-born persons of each nationality residing in the United States, as determined by the 1910 census. This measure was vetoed by President Wilson at the expiration of his term, but it was repassed virtually unchanged at the special session of the new Congress which met a few weeks later and was signed by President Harding in May, 1921.

The quota law of 1921 was originally enacted for a period of one year, but it was subsequently extended to June 30, 1924, to afford an opportunity for framing a permanent immigration policy. The total number of immigrants admissible under the 1921 act was 357,803, but loopholes in the law made possibile the admission of thousands in excess of the fixed quotas. In 1923, nearly 523,000 immigrants were admitted, and in 1924, the last year the act was in force, the number rose to about 707,000.

Establishment of Permanent Alien Policy in 1924 Act

The Immigration Act of 1924 embodied a permanent policy respecting the admission of aliens into the United States, and that policy has remained in force up to the present time. In addition to continuing in effect all previous legislation it did not specifically modify, the act made drastic changes in the quota system initially set up by the 1921 law.

Under the terms of the 1924 act, the annual quotas for each European country were limited——for a three-year transition period——to 2 per cent of the number of persons born in that country who were living in the United States in 1890, with a minimum quota of 100 allowed to any separate country. By shifting the basis of selection from the 1910 census to the 1890 census and reducing the annual quota for each country from 3 to 2 per cent, the total of the European quotas was reduced by more than half——from 357,803 to 164,647. By basing quotas on the 1890 census instead of 1910, the act sharply curtailed immigration from southern and eastern Europe.

Beginning on July 1, 1927, a permanent “national-origins” quota system was scheduled to become effective, under which the number of immigrants admitted from each country each year would be in exact proportion to the contribution made by that country to the white population of the United States as it existed in 1920. The purpose of this system was to preserve the general racial and cultural character of the population and to eliminate charges of discrimination in the selection of immigrants. The national-origins quotas were slightly more advantageous to immigrants from southern and eastern Europe than the quotas imposed in 1924.

Following protests by the representatives of national groups whose quotas were to be cut, the effective date of the national-origins plan was twice postponed by Congress. President Hoover, who opposed the new quota system, appealed to Congress in 1929 for a further postponement, but a resolution to this end was rejected in the Senate, and the plan became effective on July 1, 1929. Under it, the total annual quota was reduced from 164,647 to 153,774.

The quotas for which provision was made in the 1924 act were not intended to include all aliens seeking to enter the United States. One large group of aliens was not classed as immigrants at all. This group includes government officials, their families, and servants; those visiting the United States temporarily for business or pleasure; alien veterans of the United States forces during the World War; and bona fide alien seamen remaining in the United States less than 60 days. In addition to those not treated as immigrants, the law created a class of “non-quota immigrants” to whom the quota provisions do not apply. This class includes immigrants from countries in the Western Hemisphere, certain relatives of United States citizens, immigrants previously lawfully admitted returning from visits abroad, ministers of the gospel and their wives and children under 18, and students enrolled temporarily for study in the United States.

The 1924 law also contained a provision prohibiting Japanese immigration. This statutory prohibition, which resulted in a formal diplomatic protest from Japan and in the resignation of both the Japanese and American ambassadors, supplanted a “Gentlemen's Agreement” negotiated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, under which the Tokyo government undertook to withhold passports from Japanese laborers seeking to enter the United States.3

Go to top

Trends in European Immigration, 1921–1938

Steady Decline of Immigration Under Quota System

Restrictive legislation enacted after 1920 effectively curtailed the flow of European immigration. From a postwar peak of 805,000 in the fiscal year 1921, immigration from quota countries declined steadily for more than a decade. As compared with 8,795,000 persons admitted during the ten-year period 1901–1910, and with 5,736,000 admitted from 1911 to 1920, 4,107,000 immigrants were admitted during the decade 1921–1930.

Unfavorable economic conditions in the United States led to an accentuation of the downward trend in immigration during the years 1931–1933. The number of immigrants from quota countries fell from 242,000 in 1930 to 97,000 in 1931 and to 23,000 in 1933——the lowest figure in more than 100 years. With improvement in economic conditions, the trend turned upward in 1934, for the first time since 1920, but in the fiscal year 1938 immigrants numbered less than 68,000.4 Figures for the first half of the fiscal year 1939 indicate that total immigration this year will be considerably greater than in 1938. As compared with 37,491 immigrants admitted during the first half of the 1938 fiscal year (July-December, 1937), 45,678 were admitted in the first half of the current year.

Prior to the depression, the number of aliens entering the United States from nonquota countries was somewhat smaller than the number of immigrants from quota countries. In each of the last seven years, however, the number of nonimmigrant aliens has been more than double the number of immigrant aliens. Of 252,697 aliens admitted in the 1938 fiscal year, 184,802, or 73 per cent, were nonimmigrants. Most of these were temporary visitors or resident aliens returning from visits abroad.

During the twenties, the number of immigrants admitted to the United States was much larger than the number abandoning domicile and leaving the country for permanent residence abroad. In 1928, for example, about 307,000 immigrants were admitted and 77,000 departed, leaving a net gain of 230,000 in the immigrant population. By 1932, however, immigration had fallen to a point far below the number of departures, with the result that the immigrant population declined by nearly 68,000 during the year. Departures exceeded arrivals in each of the next three years, but in 1936 the trend was reversed. In the 1938 fiscal year, the net gain in the immigration population was 42,685, with 67,895 immigrants entering the country and 25,210 departing.

Decrease in Country's Alien Population Since 1924

The alien population of the United States has steadily declined since July 1, 1924, when the present immigration law became effective. There were roughly 7,300,000 aliens living in the country in 1920. By 1930, the number had declined to about 6,200,000, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service estimates that the number had dropped to about 3,800,000, or about 3 per cent of the total population, by the end of the 1938 fiscal year.

From the beginning of the fiscal year 1925 to the end of the fiscal year 1938, 2,137.287 immigrants were admitted into the United States. During the same period, however, 2,750,343 aliens were naturalized, 1,557,707 died, and 852,033 left the country. Naturalizations, deaths, and departures thus accounted for a reduction of 5,160,083 in the resident alien population, resulting in a net decrease of 3,022,796 in the alien population during the 14-year period.

Since 1930, the decline in the alien population has been particularly rapid, as shown by the following figures, compiled by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Aliens in United States in 1930 6,234,613
Aliens naturalized, 1930–1938 1,404,258
Net excess of emigrants over immigrants 147,254
Deaths of alien population 844,173
Total decrease 2,395,685
Estimated alien population, July 1, 1938 3,838,928

Naturalization has accounted for the largest part of the reduction in the alien population. The number of naturalizations reached an all-time peak in 1928, when 233,155 aliens were admitted to citizenship, and then began to decline, paralleling the downward trend in immigration. The low point was reached in 1933, when only 113,363 aliens were naturalized. Beginning in 1934, the number of naturalizations began to increase. About 165,000 aliens were naturalized in each of the last two fiscal years, and the number of naturalization certificates issued during the first half of the 1939 fiscal year is about 10 per cent greater than in the comparable period last year.

The upward trend of naturalization figures is due in part to the increase in immigration since 1933 and in part to the operation of federal and state laws excluding aliens from relief and social security benefits. In appropriating funds for the support of the Works Progress Administration last year, Congress prohibited use of such funds for the employment of aliens, and a similar prohibition was embodied in the W. P. A. appropriation bill approved early in the present session.5 A number of states restrict old-age assistance benefits to American citizens.

Probable Exhaustion of German Quota; Refugee Bills

Since the advent of the depression, none of the more important European countries has exhausted its quotas, with the exception of Spain. In the fiscal year 1938, only 40,754 quota immigrants, or 27.1 per cent of the total European quota of 150,275, entered the United States. In each of the six years 1932–1937, an even smaller proportion of the European quota was filled.

Only 17,868 immigrants, or 65 per cent of the 27,370 allowed under the present quota, were admitted from Germany during the fiscal year 1938. Intensification last autumn of Nazi repressive measures against Jews has led, however, to a sharp increase in German immigration during the current fiscal year. During the first half of the year (July-December, 1938), 18,801 Germans entered the United States under the quota, as compared with 8,627 German immigrants during the same period in the premious year. At this rate, the German quota will be exhausted before the end of the fiscal year.

Following the Austrian Anschluss with Germany in 1938, the Austrian immigration quota (1,413) was officially added to the German quota (25,957). The combined quota has not been augmented by the Czechoslovak quota (2,874), however, because the United States has not formally recognized the annexation of that country to Germany. The Czechoslovak quota was almost completely filled last year.

Under the terms of the pending bill sponsored by Rep. Celler, the President would be authorized, whenever he “shall be satisfied that conditions in any foreign country are such as to have created a considerable number” of political, racial, or religious refugees, to direct that the quota for that country be utilized exclusively, or increased “to such an extent as may be necessary,” for issuance of visas to such aliens. The bill provides also that no alien shall be denied admission or deported “if such alien is a refugee for political, racial, or religious reasons from the country of his origin …or if such alien might be subjected in that country to criminal prosecution or summary or arbitrary treatment, or to social and economic discrimination on account of his political or religious beliefs or because of his racial origin.”

The Wagner-Rogers bill would permit the admission, above the present quota, of 10,000 German children under 15 years of age in each of the next two years. Satisfactory assurance would be required in each case that the entrant would not become a public charge. Children would be chosen by the American Friends Service Committee and cooperating groups and placed in foster homes selected for them. Catholic and Protestant as well as Jewish children would be admitted, and all would go into homes of their respective religions.

Go to top

Deportation Policies of Federal Government

Gradual Extension of Grounds for Deportation

Deportation of undesirable aliens became a fundamental feature of American immigration policy in 1882, with passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act. That act, in addition to suspending immigration of Chinese laborers for a 10-year period, authorized the deportation of any Chinese person who, after a hearing, was found not to have a required certificate,6 A broader deportation law was enacted the following year, when the Secretary of the Treasury was authorized to return immigrants who had entered the United States in violation of law to the country from which they had come.

A law enacted in 1875 provided for exclusion from the country, but not deportation, of alien convicts, prostitutes, and coolies, and an 1882 law extended the excluded classes to embrace “any convict, lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of himself without becoming a public charge.” The law enacted in 1883 made persons in these classes subject to deportation as well as exclusion. An 1891 law enlarged the classes subject to deportation or exclusion by adding paupers, polygamists, persons whose tickets had been paid for by another, persons convicted of a felony or other crime or misdemeanor involving moral turpitude,7 and persons suffering from loathsome or dangerous contagious diseases.

The right of the federal government to deport aliens was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1893, “The right to exclude or expel all aliens, or any class of aliens, absolutely or upon certain conditions,” was said by the majority to be “an inherent and inalienable right of every sovereign and independent nation, essential to its safety, its independence and its welfare.” Chief Justice Fuller and Justices Brewer and Field each filed dissenting opinions, Justice Field declaring that “it will surprise most people to learn that any such dangerous and despotic power lies in our government——a power which will authorize us to expel at pleasure, in time of peace, the whole body of friendly foreigners of any country domiciled herein by its permission, a power which can be brought into exercise whenever it may suit the pleasure of Congress, and be enforced without regard to the guarantees of the Constitution intended for the protection of the rights of all persons in their liberty and property.”

After the constitutionality of the deportation process had been established, the class of undesirables was steadily expanded. In 1903, epileptics, professional beg-gars, anarchists, or persons believing in or advocating the overthrow by force or violence of the government of the United States were declared to be subject to deportation, and in 1907, persons with tuberculosis and mentally or physically defective persons were added to the list. Since the World War, at least a dozen laws further definding grounds for deportation have been enacted. At present, aliens falling into any of more than 30 different categories are subject to deportation.

Since 18S2 the whole fabric of the immigration law has been so patched and re-patched, so amended and enlarged, that it has become a veritable crazy-quilt, recognizable only by those who know from use where each individual patch belongs.…To no part of the law can the criticism more truly apply than to the provisions regarding deportation, listed as they are in a haphazard, Mt-or-miss, unclassified fashion.8

Foreign-born persons who have been naturalized are citizens and are not subject to deportation for any cause. If, however, their naturalization was obtained by fraud, it maybe revoked, and they then become subject to deportation. Special enactments of Congress and court decisions apply a statute of limitations to aliens who entered the United States illegally prior to 1924. If they have broken no laws, they may not be deported because of their illegal entry before 1924, and they are allowed to register for naturalization.

Post-War Drive for Deportation of Alien Radicals

The deportation process was little used before 1908, not more than 1,000 aliens having been deported in any one year prior to that time. From 190S to 1918, the number of aliens deported averaged about 2,000 a year. Beginning in 1919, when they numbered 3,068, deportations began to increase rapidly. In spite of the fact that immigration was declining, the upward trend of deportations continued through the decade of the twenties. The peak was not reached until 1933, when 19,865 aliens were deported. Under the New Deal, the number of deportations has averaged about 9,000 a year.

The deportation process was first given wide public attention during the spectacular anti-red crusade initiated by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer in 1919. At that time, widespread fear of Bolshevist agitation had been added to the general apprehension over German espionage activities, and the American public was in a state of mind quick to take alarm at any suggestion of dangers from a foreign source. Although deportation proceedings were under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor and there was doubt as to the validity of action in that field by other governmental agencies, Congress made available to the Department of Justice sufficient funds to carry on a far-reaching campaign for the deportation of alien radicals.

The Palmer compaign opened on the night of November 7, 1919, when agents of the Justice Department conducted simultaneous raids in 11 cities on meetings of the Federation of Unions of Russian Workers of the United States and Canada, an organization formed in 1911 for the purpose of promoting the overthrow of the Czarist government in particular and “all institutions of state and authority” in general. The Department of Labor had issued warrants for the arrest of some 600 alien members of this organization. A total of 452 arrests were made, and 246 of those arrested were deported. It was later contended that many of this number, while legitimately deported under the law, were unaware of the revolutionary principles of the organization.

The November raids were only a preliminary to those carried out on the night of January 2, 1920, in 33 cities and towns from one end of the country to the other, resulting in the arrest of about 2,500 persons. The raids were conducted with little regard for ordinary legal processes, and they brought the Justice Department into conflict with Assistant Secretary of Labor Louis F. Post, upon whom fell the duty, in the absence of the Secretary of Labor, of ordering or refusing to order deportations. Post made the following criticism of the methods used by the Justice Department:

They involved lawless invasions of peaceable assemblies——-public and private, political, recreational, and educational. Meetings wide open to the general public were roughly broken up. All persons present——citizens and aliens alike without discrimination——were arbitrarily taken into custody and searched as if they had been burglars caught in the criminal act. Without warrants of arrest men were carried off to police stations or other temporary prisons, subjected there to secret police-office inquisitions commonly known as the “third degree,” their statements written categorically into mimeographed question blanks, and they required to swear to them regardless of their accuracy.…And as with public meetings, so with private gatherings and social entertainments. Even homes did not escape night invasions and lawless searches, nor their law-abiding-inmates unwarranted arrests.9

The Department of Justice raids were directed against members of the Communist Party of America and of the Communist Labor party. Alien members of the Communist party were held to be subject to deportation as belonging to an organization advocating overthrow of the government by force. The Secretary of Labor originally authorized warrants of arrest also for alien members of the Communist Labor party but later revoked that decision when it appeared that the platform of the latter party did not give cause for deportation. Warrants for the arrest of about 5,000 alien radicals were issued between December 29, 1919, and June 30, 1920, but the number of arrests actually made was about 3,000, while 2,202 warrants were cancelled after those arrested had been heard, and 556 persons were ordered deported.

Post's refusal to be rushed off his feet in the prevailing anti-red hysteria made him the subject of widespread criticism. A move for his impeachment was started in the House, but it broke down completely after he had appeared in his own defense at a hearing before the Committee on Rules. At the instance of the National Popular Government League, in the spring of 1920, a group of 12 prominent lawyers, including Felix Frankfurter, Dean Pound of Harvard Law School, and Frank P. Walsh, made a report of the activities of the Department of Justice and charged it with numerous illegal acts. This so-called Lawyers' Indictment was made the subject of a hearing before a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee early in 1921, but disagreement within the committee forestalled positive action by the Senate.

The practice of conducting deportation raids was abandoned in 1921, but the number of deportations continued to increase year by year. In 1924, the Commissioner General of Immigration reported that “the deportation of aliens found to be unlawfully in the United States is rapidly becoming one of the most important functions of the Immigration Service, and as the laws governing the admission of aliens become more restrictive in character the deportation problem becomes more difficult and exacting.”

Revival of Deportation Raids Under Hoover Regime

A particularly large rise in the volume of deportations took place after 1929, reflecting the efforts of the Hoover administration to ameliorate the unemployment situation by vigorous prosecution of deportation activities. On April 10, 1931, Secretary of Labor Doak announced his determination to keep federal agents “out in full force, especially in industrial centers, to run down and deport foreigners who are unable to prove their right to be in the United States.” Doak asserted that “some people say it is inhuman to deport these people. My answer is that the government must protect its own citizens. Law is law, and I intend to use every legal weapon at my disposal to deport people who have no right to be here.…I am informed that many of those recently deported left jobs vacant for worthy citizens who were in need of employment.”

The practice of conducting deportation raids was revived by Secretary Doak in 1931. On February 4 of that year, a group of immigrant inspectors and the “alien squad” of the city police department raided the Seamen's Church Institute in New York, and 10 days later a dance being held by the Finnish Workers' Education Association. According to the New York Times:

The raiders blocked the doors and told the musicians to cease playing. The 1,000 dancers were ordered to show credentials or offer other evidence proving they were in this country legally. In an atmosphere of hysteria tinged with indignation, the dancers came forward singly and offered their proof. All but 16 men and 2 women passed the test. These were taken to the West 123d Street police station and then to Ellis Island for deportation.10

Whereas the number of deportations had averaged between 11,000 and 12,000 annually in the fiscal years 1926–1929, the number jumped to 16,631 in 1930, 18,142 in 1931, 19,426 in 1932, and 19,865 in 1933. The methods and practices employed in deportation activities during this period were strongly condemned in the report of the Wickersham Commission in 1931. The Commission found that: “(1) The apprehension and examination of supposed aliens are often characterized by methods unconstitutional, tyrannic, and oppressive; (2) there is strong reason to believe that in many cases persons are deported when further development of the facts or proper construction of the law would have shown their right to remain; (3) many persons are permanently separated from their American families with results that violate the plainest dictates of humanity.”

Revision of Deportation Policy Under Roosevelt

A sharp drop in the number of deportations in the fiscal year 1934 signified a definite change in deportation policy with the advent of the Roosevelt administration. As compared with 19,865 deportations in the year ended June 30, 1933, only 8,879 were deported in 1934 and 8,319 in 1935. There were 9,195 deportations in the fiscal year 1936, 8,829 in 1937, and 9,275 in 1938.11

Testifying before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, last March 9, Secretary of Labor Perkins explained that the change in deportation policy had been brought about as a result of the findings of the Wickersham Commission. She said:

In their report to the President, and to the Congress, certain procedures that were used in the Immigration Service were severely denounced. One of the thing's …they pointed out was that arrest without warrant had no basis in law, that it was subject to great abuse, and that it was unconstitutional and illegal. When I came into office, Mr. Wickersham came to see me. …He said to me: “This is simply horrible, what your department is doing. I hope you intend to reform this practice. There is no warrant in law for this procedure, and you had better stop it.”

After conferring with legal advisers and with Daniel W. MacCormack, then Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization, Secretary Perkins directed that the practice of arresting aliens without warrants be abandoned, except in cases where such action was authorized by law.12

Other factors cited by Secretary Perkins as partly responsible for the decreased volume of deportations after 1933 were: (1) The decrease in the alien population; (2) the decline of immigration; (3) the greater care exercised by consular officers abroad in issuing immigration visas: (4) reduction of the staff of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1933; and (5) the increased efficiency of the Immigration Border Patrol Service in preventing illegal entries.

Bridges Case; Court Decision in Strecker Case

Failure of the Department of Labor to order the deportation of Harry Bridges, president of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union and Pacific coast director of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, led to the introduction in the House early this year of a resolution calling for the impeachment of Secretary Perkins, James L. Houghteling, Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization, and Gerard D, Reilly, Solicitor of the Labor Department, on the grounds that they had entered into a conspiracy to refuse to enforce the federal immigration laws and to defraud the United States by failing to deport Bridges.

Rep. Thomas (R., N. J.), author of the resolution, declared in a radio speech, March 29, that Bridges was “a symbol of thousands of radical aliens illegally within our borders.” In addition to the Bridges case, he said, there were many others equally bad but not as well known. “The Labor Department has time after time either failed to take appropriate action or has permitted radical aliens to escape after action had been started.”

The first attempt to bring about the deportation of Bridges, a native of Australia who entered the United States in 1920, was made during the San Francisco general strike in the summer of 1934, when complaints were made to the Labor Department that he was an undesirable labor agitator. No evidence supporting this charge was submitted, and an investigation having revealed no grounds for deportation, the case was dropped. In September, 1937, following the filing of charges that Bridges was a member of the Communist party and advocated the overthrow of the government of the United States by force and violence, the case was reopened. After conducting a second investigation, the department in March, 1938, served upon Bridges a warrant for his arrest. Pending a hearing of the case, scheduled for April 25, Bridges was released on his own recognizance.

On April 6, 1938, however, the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, overruling a previous line of decisions, held in the case of Kessler v. Strecker that an alien member of the Communist party was not on that ground deportable under the immigration laws. Strecker, an Austrian who had entered the country in 1912, had joined the Communist party just before the national elections in 1932, but had stopped paying dues three months later. To say that this meant that he advocated, or belonged to a body advocating, the overthrow of the government by force was, according to the opinion of Judge Hutcheson, “a kind of Pecksniffian righteousness, savoring strongly of hypocrisy and party bigotry.”

Testifying in the impeachment proceedings before the House Judiciary Committee last February 8, Secretary Perkins said that she had been advised by legal counsel that “if Judge Hutcheson's opinion in that case was sound it would be impossible to deport Bridges or other Communists on evidence of party membership.” Accordingly, the decision was appealed by the government to the Supreme Court, and further action in the Bridges case was postponed pending final decision of the Strecker case. Impeachment proceedings against Secretary Perkins and her two subordinates were dropped March 24, when the House tabled the Thomas resolution. This action followed a unanimous report by the Judiciary Committee exonerating the three officials of the charges preferred against them.

In deciding the Strecker case, April 17, the Supreme Court held that the provisions of the immigration laws authorizing deportation of aliens belonging to organizations advocating violent overthrow of the government were intended to apply only to two classes of aliens: (1) Those belonging to such organizations when they entered the country; and (2) those belonging to such organizations when the deportation proceedings were instituted. Accordingly, the Court ordered that the deportation proceedings against Strecker be dropped, since he had severed his affiliation with the Communist party prior to the institution of the proceedings in 1933. Justices Butler and McReynolds dissented from the majority decision. The bearing of the decision on the Bridges case rests upon the determination by the Department of Labor as to when, if at all, Bridges belonged to the Communist party.

Go to top


[1] At hearings before the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, the A. C. L. U. charged that the broad terms of the measure would serve to “suppress all expressions of opinion on essential political issuer by aliens.” In a memorandum filed with Chairman Russell (D., Ga.) of the Senate Immigration Committee, March 28, the International Labor Defense expressed the opinion that, under the terms of the measure, membership of an alien in an American religious or fraternal organization advocating a change in the Constitution might be ground for deportation.

[2] As originally introduced, the bill provided for deportation of aliens, believing in or advocating “fundamental changes” In the American form of government, but the phrase “any changes” was substituted by the House Immigration Committee.

[3] By the Immigration Act of 1917 most of China was brought within the Asiatic “barred zone” from which immigration is permanently excluded. This zone, which la defined by longitude and latitude, includes India, Siam, Indo-China. Afghanistan, parts of Russian Turkestan, that part of Arabia on the continent of Asia, New Guinea, Borneo, Sumatra. Java, and many smaller Asiatic islands.

[4] These figures do not represent the total number of aliens admitted into the United States. They represent the total number of immigrants from quota countries, including wives, children, and other relatives of United States citizens to whom the quotas do not apply. Of the 67,895 persons admitted from quota countries in the fiscal year 1938, 42,494 were quota Immigrants, while the remainder were nonquota immigrants.

[5] The 1936 relief act contained a proviso that federal work projects for the unemployed must “not knowingly employ aliens Illegally within the limits of the continental United States,” that reasonable efforts must be made to prevent the employment or such persons, and that if discovered they must the deported.

[6] The 1882 act was the first law applying the principle of compulsory registration to any class of aliens.

[7] The 1891 act provided, however, that “nothing In this act shall be construed to apply to or exclude persons convicted of a political offense, notwithstanding said political offense may be designated as a ‘felony, crime, Infamous crime, or misdemeanor, involving moral turpitude’ by the laws of the land from whence he came.”

[8] Jane Perry Clark, Deportation of Aliens From the United States to Europe (1931), p. 54.

[9] Post, The Deportations Delirium of 1920 (1923), pp. 51–55.

[10] Jane Perry Clark has pointed out that no law, except the Chinese Exclusion Act, requires either alien or citizen to produce a certificate either of admission to the country or of birth or naturalization, even if demanded. She adds that local police are without authority to act under federal immigration law, while deportation raids without warrants are clearly illegal.——Op. Cit., p. 326.

[11] In addition to the aliens deported, about 8,000 aliens were “required to depart” each year during the period 1334–1938, as compared with an annual average of about 11,000 during the Hoover administration. This classification covers aliens who are deportable but who voluntarily agree to leave the country, thus making the deportation process unnecessary.

[12] Under a 1925 enactment, aliens entering the country illegally in the presence of immigration officers are subject to arrest without warrant.

Go to top

Document APA Citation
Putney, B. (1939). Immigration and deportation. Editorial research reports 1939 (Vol. I). Washington, DC: CQ Press. Retrieved from
Document ID: cqresrre1939041800
Document URL:
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Immigration and Naturalization
Feb. 24, 2017  Immigrants and the Economy
Sep. 02, 2016  U.S.-Mexico Relations
Oct. 23, 2015  Immigrant Detention
Sep. 27, 2013  Border Security
Mar. 09, 2012  Immigration Conflict
Dec. 2010  Europe's Immigration Turmoil
Sep. 19, 2008  America's Border Fence
Feb. 01, 2008  Immigration Debate Updated
May 04, 2007  Real ID
May 06, 2005  Illegal Immigration
Jul. 14, 2000  Debate Over Immigration
Jan. 24, 1997  The New Immigrants
Feb. 03, 1995  Cracking Down on Immigration
Sep. 24, 1993  Immigration Reform
Apr. 24, 1992  Illegal Immigration
Jun. 13, 1986  Immigration
Dec. 10, 1976  Illegal Immigration
Dec. 13, 1974  The New Immigration
Feb. 12, 1964  Immigration Policy Revision
Feb. 06, 1957  Immigration Policy
Nov. 27, 1951  Emigration from Europe
Feb. 09, 1945  Immigration to Palestine
Sep. 30, 1940  Forced Migrations
Apr. 18, 1939  Immigration and Deportation
Jul. 27, 1931  Deportation of Aliens
Mar. 12, 1929  The National-Origin Immigration Plan
Aug. 19, 1927  Immigration from Canada and Latin America
Nov. 01, 1926  Quota Control and the National Origin System
Jul. 12, 1924  Immigration and its Relation to Political and Economic Theories and Party Affiliation
Immigration and Naturalization
Outsourcing and Immigration
No comments on this report yet.
Comment on this Report