Legislative Branch

Guide to Senate Records: Chapter 13 Immigration

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Chapter 13. Records of the Committee on the Judiciary and Related Committees, 1816-1968

Records of the Committee on the Judiciary and Related Committees, 1816-1988 from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States

Committee records discussed in this chapter:

Records of the Committee on Immigration, 1889-1946

13.64 The Senate Committee on Immigration was established on December 12, 1889, during the first session of the 51st Congress after approval of a resolution introduced by Senator Orville H. Platt of Connecticut. The committee was created during the great wave of southern European and Asian immigration to the United States in the late 19th century, which prompted an increasing demand for immigration regulation at the Federal level and eventually led to the creation of the Committee on Immigration. Prior to the establishment of the committee, bills, resolutions, and petitions relating to immigration were referred to the Committee on Commerce or Committee on Foreign Relations, and the Immigration Acts of 1875 and 1882 were the only significant legislation passed. These acts excluded Chinese, paupers, criminals, and others considered undesirable, and called for a 50-cent tax on each immigrant. The Immigration Committee met during each Congress until it was terminated January 2, 1947, when its functions were transferred to the Judiciary Committee under the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946. Since then, immigration matters have been referred to the Immigration and Naturalization Subcommittee, and more recently, the Immigration and Refugee Policy Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee.

13.65 The records of the Committee on Immigration (36 ft.) consist of three series of records: Committee papers, 1890-1946 (12 ft.); petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures and other bodies referred to the committee, 1890-1946 (24 ft.); and a legislative docket, 1906-17 (1 vol., 1 in.). Records relating to specific immigration bills and resolutions, 1901-46 (57th-79th Congresses), are located in the series of papers supporting specific bills and resolutions. There are no committee papers for numerous Congresses from the 52d (1891-93) to the 70th (1927-29). Beginning with the 73d Congress (1933-34), the recordkeeping practices of the Committee improved substantially. The committee papers include correspondence, printed bills, and related records and are more accessible to the researcher because they are arranged by subject. The petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures and other bodies cover all but the 75th Congress (1937-39) and are arranged for each Congress chronologically by date of referral. The bulk of petitions and memorials favor some form of restriction on immigration, although a significant number of petitions came from ethnic or nationality-based organizations that opposed restrictions. Of the various groups that advocated restriction, labor unions constituted a substantial plurality. During the earlier years of the committee, it received petitions and memorials from various obscure unions, such as the Glass Bottle Blowers' Association (54A-J14), Horse Nail Workers' Union (57A-J27), and the Retail Clerks' Protective Association (57A-J27), which existed prior to the dominance of the American Federation of Labor.

1889-1933 (51st-72d Congresses)

13.66 The committee papers (4 in.) are very limited and generally unarranged or arranged chronologically by date of referral or document. The records of this period mainly include printed executive communications and reports, printed House and Senate bills and resolutions, some letters from embassies, and a few petitions and memorials not filed in the other series. Two noteworthy items are a letter from Joseph Pulitzer requesting that Congress convert Liberty Island into a public park (51A-F13) and a rough manuscript history of 17th, 18th, and 19th century immigration to the U.S. (57A-F12).

13.67 In contrast, the volume of petitions and memorials (23 ft.) that were referred to the committee during this time period is substantial. In addition, the Senate during some Congresses, like the 55th Congress (1897-99), tabled many immigration-related petitions and memorials instead of referring them to the committee. The petitions, memorials, and resolutions came from various groups and individuals and contain various proposals for dealing with the influx of immigrants. Petitions from labor unions, including one letter signed by Samuel Gompers of the AFL (57A-J26), called for restriction to secure jobs for citizens. Patriotic societies, such as the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, also called for immigration restriction. Some groups, along with certain individuals, exhibited strong opposition to immigration and offered such severe measures to stop it as a 10- year suspension of immigration (54A-J14), a $50-tariff on each immigrant (54A-J14), and exclusion of all immigrants of laboring classes (59A-J46) to control it. In 1908, when immigration was at its peak, the Virginia General Assembly submitted a resolution proposing to prohibit southern Europeans from emigrating to that State (60A-J57). Some resolutions from various business organizations, such as the chamber of commerce of Los Angeles (57A-J27), also supported restriction, but a greater number, including the chambers of commerce of San Francisco and New York City (57A-J26) protested such legislation because immigrants were valued as a needed source of labor. Numerous resolutions from other types of organizations and petitions from individuals were submitted, most of which called for restriction. Generally these petitions were signed by a number of members of the same community and many are of a standardized form, using the same language and appearing in many States. While most petitions favored immigration restriction, there are also a number opposed to restriction, mainly from organizations formed by the recent immigrants themselves. Following the assassination of President McKinley, other petitions and memorials advocated laws to restrict "undesirables" such as "paupers, "criminals and anarchists" (57A-J30).

13.68 During the years from 1899 to 1914, immigration to the United States from southern and eastern Europe reached its peak. In response to the increase in immigration, labor unions, certain charities, and nativist organizations inundated the Senate with petitions, memorials, and resolutions proposing or supporting various remedies. Among these were the use of a literacy test to weed out poorly educated immigrants who were predominantly Catholic, Jewish, or oriental (57A-J27, 59A-J47, 62A-J44, 63A-J32); restriction of entire groups, especially the Chinese (57A-J26, 59A-J46, 59A-J47); dispersion of immigrants from urban areas through continuation of the Division of Information, established in 1907 under the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (61A-J40, 62A-J44); and increased regulation of naturalization (59A-J45, 59A-J47). These proposals eventually formed the basis of the Immigration Act of 1917, which required a literacy test for all immigrants and created an "asiatic barred zone" that excluded most orientals from the United States.

13.69 After World War I, the committee received petitions and memorials supporting legislation to exclude or deport subversives (66A-J28) and alien draft evaders who were exempted from military service because of their status as noncitizens (65A-J24). There are numerous petitions for restricting Japanese immigrants, who were exempted from the rules of the asiatic barred zone by Theodore Roosevelt's 1907 "Gentlemen's Agreement" (66A-J39, 66A-J30, 68A-J27). In 1920, the committee received many petitions, some in response to the violent labor dispute in Centralia, WA, involving the International Workers of the World, favoring the restriction of Communists and other subversives (66A-J28, 66A-J29, 66A-J30). But by the following year, these anti-Communist petitions had dwindled and were replaced by calls for the Johnson bill to restrict immigration by means of a quota system. This campaign for a quota system to restrict immigration was very intense and culminated in passage of the Immigration Act of 1924 (Public Law 68-139). For over a decade (1921-32), the committee received numerous petitions, memorials, and resolutions both favoring and opposing the quota system, particularly the national origins provision of the 1924 act. These documents describe various methods of determining what classes to include in the quota and contain suggestions for amending or repealing the act (67A-J29, 68A-J27, 70A-J17, 71A-J32, 72A-J33).

1933-46 (73d-79th Congresses)

13.70 The records for this period consist of committee papers (12 ft.) and petitions and memorials referred to the committee (6 in.). The committee papers are arranged according to the type of document, such as executive communications and reports, recommendations from various executive departments on specific bills, correspondence, committee requests for information from executive agencies, and even several petitions, or arranged by subject, such as deportation of aliens, and registration of aliens. The committee papers also include committee vote tallies, administrative records relating to committee hearings and original transcripts of printed hearings, mailing lists, legislative calendars, copies of speeches of some Senators, and printed private relief bills concerning immigration status of individuals. Also included are several requests for excepting Jewish war refugees from immigration quotas as well as letters from those opposed (73A-F11), the original of an October 12, 1943, Presidential address to Congress in favor of admitting Chinese, signed by Franklin Roosevelt (78A-F12), Attorney General reports (9 ft.) concerning over 18,000 aliens whose pending deportation was suspended due to extenuating circumstances (78A-F12, 79A-F11), and news articles and other accounts of the Special House Committee to Investigate Un-American Activities Chairman Martin Dies, Jr.'s fight against Communist subversives (79A-F11).

13.71 The petitions and memorials are mainly from various labor and patriotic groups advocating some type of further restriction and/or deportation, from certain ethnic groups against restriction, and from private individuals for quota exemptions or exceptions to naturalization laws. Beginning in the early 1930's, the committee again received a number of petitions for excluding communists. Specifically, both the Georgia and California State Legislatures called for Communist exclusion by way of deportation, denial of entrance, and detection through mail inspection (74A-J12). Also in this series is a memorial for the release of war refugees held at the Fort Ontario emergency refugee camp in New York State (79A-J10), and a memorial from Citizens for Constitutional Security against "prematurely" granting citizenship to Albert Einstein (73A-J25).

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Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States Senate at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-42). By Robert W. Coren, Mary Rephlo, David Kepley, and Charles South. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.