Message from the President of the United States Transmitting His Recommendation That Congress Enact Legislation to Enable Displaced Persons to Enter the United States as Immigrants

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Message from the President of the United States Transmitting His Recommendation That Congress Enact Legislation to Enable Displaced Persons to Enter the United States as Immigrants

Statement

By: Harry S. Truman

Date: July 7, 1947

Source: "Message from the President of the United States Transmitting His Recommendation that Congress Enact Legislation to Enable Displaced Persons to Enter the United States as Immigrants," Congressional Record. 80th Congress, 1st sess., 1947, Vol. 19, pt. 74.

About the Author: Harry S. Truman (1884–1972) took office as the thirty-third President of the United States upon the death of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1945. Truman pursued a strong foreign policy and his terms in office were marked by conflict. He oversaw the end of World War II, most of the Korean War (1948–1952), and the beginning of the political conflict with the Soviet Union known as the Cold War. Truman was responsible for the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. On the domestic front, Truman worked to extend the New Deal reforms of his predecessor in the form of a "Fair Deal."

INTRODUCTION

The Second World War (1939–1945) displaced millions of people throughout Europe. At the end of the war the victorious Allies faced the problem of restoring them to their homes or finding them new places to live. Some of these refugees were ostarbeiter (eastern-workers) or laborers—often prisoners—forced to work in German factories and farms during the war. Other refugees were Jewish concentration camp survivors. Additional displaced persons were prisoners of war and civilians who had fled from the fighting.

Mass refugees in Europe were not a new phenomenon. Similar problems were caused by the First World War (1914–1918). At the end of World War I the League of Nations created the High Commission for Refugees to deal with the problem. This organization, led by Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen (1861–1930), relocated Russians, Armenians, Greeks, and Bulgarians displaced as a result of the war. In 1930, the League of Nations created the Nansen International Office for Refugees as a successor to the High Commission for Refugees. This office aided refugees from the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) and aided Jews fleeing Nazi persecution as Hitler began his rise to power. However, as World War II began to spread across Europe, the League of Nations dissolved and so did the agencies created under it. In 1945, as World War II was coming to a close, the international community created a new international body to replace the League of Nations: the United Nations. Later in 1945, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was created to assist war refugees.

In May 1945, approximately eight million foreign nationals were within German borders. The UNRRA established camps throughout the country to assist in dealing with these refugees. The situation was complicated because a significant number of refugees did not wish to return to their pre-war homes. Some of these were Jews who feared persecution upon return to their nation of origin. Others did not want to be sent to countries in Eastern Europe that had been occupied by the Soviet Union—led by the ruthless communist dictator Joseph Stalin—during the war. Roughly two million Russians were among the refugees in Germany. Some of them also feared persecution under Stalin, but under agreements reached by the Allies during the war they had no choice: all were repatriated to Russia. Even so, there were roughly one million other refugees in Germany that were unwilling to be repatriated to their countries of origin. As a result, the United States and its western European allies were forced to deal with relocating them. The International Refugee Organization was created to complete the mission of the UNRRA.

PRIMARY SOURCE

   Legislation To Enable Displaced Persons To Enter The United States As Immigrants

                         Message From The President of the Untied Sates Transmitting

His recommendation that Congress enable legislation to enable displaced persons to enter the United States as Immigrants

July 7, 1947.—Referred to the committee on the Judiciary, and ordered to be printed

To the Congress of the United States:

On several occasions I have advocated legislation to enable a substantial number of displaced persons to enter the United States as immigrants. I stated this view in opening the second session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. In the message on the state of the Union on January 6, 1947, I said:

The fact is that the executive agencies are now doing all that is reasonably possible under the limitation of existing law and established quotas. Congressional assistance in the form of new legislation is needed. I urge the Congress to turn its attention to this world problem, in an effort to find ways whereby we can fulfill our responsibilities to those thousands of homeless and suffering refugees of all faiths.

I express appreciation to the Congress for the attention already being given to this problem, and appreciation which appears to be generously shared by the public with increasing understanding of the facts and of our responsibilities.

Because of the urgency of this subject I should like again to call attention to some of its fundamental aspects. We are dealing here solely with an emergency problem growing out of the war—the disposition of a specific group of individuals, victims of war, who have come into the hands of our own and the other western Allied armies of occupation in Europe.

We should not forget how their destiny came into our hands. The Nazi armies, as they swept over Europe, uprooted many millions of men, women, and children from their homes and forced them to work for the German war economy. The Nazis annihilated millions by hardship and persecution. Survivors were taken under the care of the western Allied armies, as these armies liberated them during the conquest of the enemy. Since the end of hostilities, the armies of occupation have been able to return to their homes some 7,000,000 of these people. But there still remain, in the western zones of Germany and Austria and in Italy, close to a million survivors who are unwilling by reason of political opinion and fear of persecution to return to the areas where they once had homes. The great majority come from the northern Baltic areas, Poland, the Russian Ukraine, and Yugoslavia.

The new International Refugee Organization, supported by the contributions of this and other countries, will aid in the care and resettlement of these displaced persons. But, as I have pointed out before, the International Refugee Organization is only a service organization. It cannot impose its will on member countries. Continuance of this Organization and our financial support of its work will be required as long as the problem of these homeless people remains unsolved.

It is unthinkable that they should be left indefinitely in camps in Europe. We cannot turn them out in Germany into the community of the very people who persecuted them. Moreover, the German economy, so devastated by war and so badly overcrowded with the return of people of German origin from neighboring countries, is approaching an economic suffocation which in itself is one of our major problems. Turning these displaced persons into such chaos would be disastrous for them and would seriously aggravate our problems there.

This Government has been firm in resisting any proposal to send these people back to their former homes by force, where it is evident that their unwillingness to return is based upon political considerations or fear of persecution. In this policy I am confident I have your support.

These victims of war and oppression look hopefully to the democratic countries to help them rebuild their lives and provide for the future of their children. We must not destroy their hope. The only civilized course is to enable these people to take new roots in friendly soil. Already certain countries of western Europe and Latin America have opened their doors to substantial numbers of these displaced persons. Plans for making homes for more of them in other countries are under consideration. But our plain duty requires that we join with other nations in solving this tragic problem.

We ourselves should admit a substantial number as immigrants. We have not yet been able to do this because our present statutory quotas applicable to the eastern European areas from which most of these people come are wholly inadequate for this purpose. Special legislation limited to this particular emergency will therefore be necessary if we are to share with other nations in this enterprise of offering an opportunity for a new life to these people.

I wish to emphasize that there is no proposal for a general revision of our immigration policy as now enunciated in our immigration statutes. There is no proposal to waive or lower our present prescribed standards for testing the fitness for admission of every immigrant, including these displaced persons. Those permitted to enter would still have to meet the admission requirements of our existing immigration laws. These laws provide adequate guaranties against the entry of those who are criminals or subversives, those likely to become public charges, and those who are otherwise undesirable.

These displaced persons are hardy and resourceful or they would not have survived. A survey of the occupational backgrounds of those in our assembly centers shows a wide variety of professions, crafts, and skills. These are people who oppose totalitarian rule, and who because of their burning faith in the principles of freedom and democracy have suffered untold privation and hardship. Because they are not Communists and are opposed to communism, they have staunchly resisted all efforts to induce them to return to Communist-controlled areas. In addition, they were our individual allies in the war.

In the light of the vast numbers of people of all countries that we have usefully assimilated into our national life, it is clear that we could readily absorb the relatively small number of these displaced persons who would be admitted. We should not forget that our Nation was founded by immigrants many of whom fled oppression and persecution. We have thrived on the energy and diversity of many peoples. It is a source of our strength that we number among our people all the major religions, races, and national origins.

Most of the individuals in the displaced persons centers already have strong roots in this country—by kinship, religion, or national origin. Their occupational background clearly indicates that they can quickly become useful members of our American communities. Their kinsmen, already in the United States, have been vital factors in farm and workshop for generations. They have made lasting contributions to our arts and sciences and political life. They have been numbered among our honored dead on every battlefield of war.

We are dealing with a human problem, a world tragedy. Let us remember that these are fellow human beings now living under conditions which frustrate hope; which make it impossible for them to take any steps, unaided, to build for themselves or their children the foundations of a new life. They live in corroding uncertainty of their future. Their fate is in our hands and must now be decided. Let us join in giving them a chance at decent and self-supporting lives.

I urge the Congress to press forward with its consideration of this subject and to pass suitable legislation as speedily as possible.

                                        Harry S. Truman.

                           The White House, July 7, 1947.

SIGNIFICANCE

In the 1947 State of the Union Address, U.S. President Harry Truman called upon Congress to create legislation that would take action to assist those displaced persons located in Germany. In July 1947, after little action was taken, Truman sent another message to congress, once again urging legislation to be created on behalf of those displaced by the war. Finally, on the last day of session of the 80th Congress, the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 was passed. In his statement upon signing of the bill, Truman expressed his displeasure with the Act, but asserted that little action was better than none at all. The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 provided for the immigration of 400,000 people and 17,000 orphans into the United States. However, Truman suggested that that the bill was inherently discriminatory toward Jews and Catholics as it excluded those who had entered the American zones of Germany after a certain date. Truman asserted that those who fled into the American zones did so to escape persecution under the Soviet leadership. As such, Truman sought their inclusion in the act. In addition, Truman voiced his displeasure with the provision that displaced persons coming into the United States would count against future quotas. The issues raised by President Truman were revisited in 1952 with the Refugee Relief Act of 1953. This act allowed for an additional 200,000 displaced persons to migrate to the United States, coming from countries such as Poland, the Russian Ukraine, Yugoslavia and the Northern Baltic States.

By 1952, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which superseded the International Refugee Organization, had assisted approximately one million refugees immigrated to 113 countries.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Book

Wyman, Mark. Europe's Displaced Persons 1945–1951. New York: Associated University Presses, 1989.

Web sites

Truman Presidential Museum and Library. "Statement by the President upon Signing the Displaced Persons Act." June 25, 1948 〈http://rrumanlibrary.org/publicpapers/viewpapers.php?pid=1688〉 (accessed June 15, 2006).

National Commission on Terrorism. "Countering the Changing Threat of International Terrorism." January 1, 2004. 〈http://encyclopedia.laborlawtalk.com/Peter_Kropotkin〉 (accessed April 15, 2006).

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Message from the President of the United States Transmitting His Recommendation That Congress Enact Legislation to Enable Displaced Persons to Enter the United States as Immigrants

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