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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

Presidential Papers Historical Series: Special Message To The Congress On Immigration Matters

by Dwight D. Eisenhower: 1953-1961

The eyes of the free world have been fixed on Hungary over the past two and one-half months. Thousands of men, women, and children have fled their homes to escape communist oppression. They seek asylum in countries that are free. Their opposition to communist tyranny is evidence of a growing resistance throughout the world. Our position of world leadership demands that, in partnership with the other nations of the free world, we be in a position to grant that asylum.

Moreover, in the four and one-half years that have elapsed since the enactment of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the practical application of that law has demonstrated certain provisions which operate inequitably and others which are outmoded in the world of today.

Prompt action by the Congress is needed looking toward the revision and improvement of that law.

EMERGENCY LEGISLATION

Last October the people of Hungary, spontaneously and against tremendous odds, rose in revolt against communist domination. When it became apparent that they would be faced with ruthless deportation or extinction, a mass exodus into Austria began. Fleeing for their lives, tens of thousands crossed the border into Austria seeking asylum. Austria, despite its own substantial economic problems, unselfishly and without hesitation received these destitute refugees. More than twenty nations have expressed their willingness to accept large numbers of them.

On November 8, I directed that extraordinary measures be taken to expedite the processing of 5,000 Hungarian visa applications under the provisions of the Refugee Relief Act. On November 19, the first of this group departed from Vienna for the United States. By November 29, it had become clear that the flight of Hungarian men, women, and children to gain freedom was assuming major proportions.

On December 1, I directed that above and beyond the available visas under the Refugee Relief Act--approximately 6,500 in all--emergency admission should be granted to 15,000 additional Hungarians through the exercise by the Attorney General of his discretionary authority under Section 212 (d) (5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act; and that when these numbers had been exhausted, the situation be reexamined.

On December 12, I requested the Vice President to go to Austria so that he might inspect, firsthand, the tragic situation which faced the refugees. I also appointed a President's Committee for Hungarian Refugee Relief to assure full coordination of the work of the voluntary agencies with each other and with the various Government agencies involved.

On January 1, 1957, following his return to the United States, the Vice President made a personal inspection of our reception center at Camp Kilmer and then reported to me his findings and recommendations. He reported that the people who had fled from Hungary were largely those who had been in the forefront of the fight for freedom. He concluded that "the countries which accept these refugees will find that, rather than having assumed a liability, they have acquired a valuable national asset."

Most of the refugees who have come to the United States have been admitted only temporarily on an emergency basis. Some may ultimately decide that they should settle abroad. But many will wish to remain in the United States permanently. Their admission to the United States as parolees, however, does not permit permanent residence or the acquisition of citizenship. I believe they should be given that opportunity under a law which deals both with the current escapee problem and with any other like emergency which may hereafter face the free world.

First, I recommend that the Congress enact legislation giving the President power to authorize the Attorney General to parole into the United States temporarily under such conditions as he may prescribe escapees, selected by the Secretary of State, who have fled or in the future flee from communist persecution and tyranny. The number to whom such parole may be granted should not exceed in any one year the average number of aliens who, over the past eight years have been permitted to enter the United States by special Acts of Congress outside the basic migration system.

Second, I urge the Congress promptly to enact legislation giving the necessary discretionary power to the Attorney General to permit aliens paroled into the United States, who intend to stay here, to remain as permanent residents. Consistent with existing procedures, provision should be made for submission of the cases to Congress so that no alien will become a permanent resident if it appears to the Congress that permanent residence in his case is inappropriate. Legislation of this type would effectively solve the problem of the Hungarian escapees who have already arrived, and furthermore, would provide a means for coping with the cases of certain Korean orphans, adopted children, and other aliens who have been granted emergency admission to this country and now remain here in an indefinite status. This should be permanent legislation so that administrative authorities are in a position to act promptly and with assurance in facing emergencies which may arise in the future.

QUOTA SYSTEM

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, essentially a codification of the existing law, retained the national origins quota system established in 1924. In the more than a quarter of a century since that time experience has demonstrated a need to reexamine the method laid down in the law for the admission of aliens. I know that Congress will continue to make its own study of the problems presented, taking into consideration the needs and responsibilities of the United States. There are, however, certain interim measures which should be immediately taken to remove obvious defects in the present quota system.

First, the quota should be based on the 1950 census of population in place of the 1920 census. An annual maximum of 154,857 quota immigrants is now provided, using the 1920 census. I believe that the economic growth over the past thirty years and present economic conditions justify an increase of approximately 65,000 in quota numbers.

Second, an equitable distribution of the additional quota numbers should be made. Under the present system a number of countries have large unused quota numbers while other countries have quotas regularly oversubscribed. I recommend that the additional quota numbers be distributed among the various countries in proportion to the actual immigration into the United States since the establishment of the quota system in 1924 and up to July 1, 1955.

Third, quota numbers unused in one year should be available for use in the following year. Under existing law if a quota number is not used during the year it becomes void. In my view Congress should pool the unused quota numbers for Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific Oceanic area. Those numbers should be distributed during a twelve-month period on a first-come, first-serve basis without regard to country of birth within the area. However, I recommend that these unused quota numbers be available only to aliens who qualify for preference status under existing law--persons having needed skills or close relatives in the United States.

Fourth, the so-called mortgage on quotas resulting from the issuance of visas under the Displaced Persons Act and other special Acts should be eliminated. Visas issued under these Acts were required to be charged against the regular immigration quota with the result that quotas in some instances are mortgaged far into the future. I recommend that the mortgages so created be eliminated, consistent with the action of Congress when it enacted the Refugee Relief Act of 1953, which provided for special nonquota visas.

Fifth, the Congress should make provisions in our basic immigration laws for the annual admission of orphans adopted or to be adopted by American citizens. Experience has demonstrated that orphans admitted under earlier special legislation have successfully adjusted to American family life. It also has revealed that there are many Americans eager to adopt children from abroad.

ADMINISTRATIVE RELIEF FOR HARDSHIP CASES

The large and ever increasing mass of immigration bills for the relief of aliens continues to place an unnecessary burden upon the Congress and the President. Private immigration laws in recent years have accounted for more than one-third of all enactments, both public and private. Like any other enactment, each case must be separately examined and studied as to its merits by the Congress and the President. The problem presented is usually a determination whether hardships and other factors in the particular case justify an exception from the ordinary provisions of the immigration laws. These determinations could be effected without resort to legislation if the necessary administrative authority is provided. I recommend that the Attorney General be granted authority, subject to such safeguards as Congress may prescribe, to grant relief from exclusion and expulsion to aliens having close relatives in this country, to veterans, and to functionaries of religious organizations. Generally these are the classes of cases which have been favorably regarded by Congress because of the hardship involved.

TECHNICAL AMENDMENTS

In addition to the quota revisions, experience under existing immigration law has made it clear that a number of changes should be made in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 Some provisions create unnecessary restrictions and limitations upon travel to the United States while others inflict hardships upon aliens affected. I have made a number of proposals for amendments; with some minor modifications, I renew those recommendations and call attention here to certain of them.

One of the obstacles to travel, and a hindrance to the free exchange of ideas and commerce, is the requirement in the present law that every alien who applies for a visa or who comes to the United States without a visa but remains for as much as thirty days be fingerprinted. In some foreign countries fingerprinting is regarded with disfavor. Lacking any significant contribution to our national safety and security, the law should be amended to eliminate the requirement of fingerprinting for aliens coming to the United States for temporary periods.

I further recommend an amendment to the law to permit aliens traveling from one foreign country to another, passing merely in transit through the United States, to go through this country without undergoing inspection and examination, and without complying with all the standards for admission. This would eliminate hardships to the traveler, loss of goodwill, and much expense to the transportation companies.

The law should be amended to eliminate the necessity for immigration officers to inspect and apply all grounds of exclusion to aliens seeking admission to the mainland of the United States from Alaska and Hawaii. These Territories are part of the United States and aliens who have entered or are present in them are subject to all the provisions of the law. If any were deportable before arriving on the mainland their deportable status continues.

I recommend the repeal of that provision in the law which requires aliens to specify their race and ethnic classification in visa applications.

A large number of refugees, possibly thousands, misrepresented their identities when obtaining visas some years ago in order to avoid forcible repatriation behind the Iron Curtain. Such falsification is a mandatory ground for deportation, and in respect to these unfortunate people, some relief should be granted by the Congress.

Inequitable provisions relating to the status under the immigration laws of Asian spouses, and of adopted and other children should be rectified.

Alien members and veterans of our Armed Forces who have completed at least three years of service are unable to apply for naturalization without proof of admission for permanent residence. I recommend that this requirement be eliminated in such cases, and that the naturalization law applicable to such persons be completely overhauled.

While the present law permits adjustment of status to permanent residence in the cases of certain aliens, it is unnecessarily restrictive as to aliens married to United States citizens. Adjustment is forbidden if the alien has been in the United States less than one year prior to his marriage. This results in the disruption of the family and causes unnecessary expense to the alien who is forced to go abroad to obtain a nonquota visa. It is my recommendation that the requirement of one year's presence in the United States before marriage be repealed.

JUDICIAL REVIEW

I have previously called the attention of the Congress to the necessity for a strengthening of our laws in respect to the aliens who resort to repeated judicial reviews and appeals for the sole purpose of delaying their justified expulsion from this country. Whatever the ground for deportation, any alien has the right to challenge the government's findings of deportability through judicial process. This is as it should be. But the growing frequency of such cases brought for purposes of delay particularly those involving aliens found to be criminals and traffickers in narcotics and subversion, makes imperative the need for legislation limiting and carefully defining the judicial process.

I have asked the Attorney General to submit to the Congress legislative proposals which will carry into effect these recommendations.

Reprinted with permission from John Wolley and Gerhard Peters of the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara at the American Presidency Project.


About The Author

This is part of the presidential paper historical series featuring past presidential public papers related to immigration law. The papers of our past Presidents show the impact of immigration law in American history. We thank the efforts of the American Presidency Project who have gathered these important archival documents.


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