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Dear Editor:
The most recent Presidential Paper Historical Series article on Oct. 27th showing how the Hoover administration changed immigration policy by fiat is instructive, but, as always, some background will help. In the first month of his administration (March 1929) Hoover proclaimed the national origin quotas as required by law. In an accompanying statement he stated his opposition to national origins - Hoover knew enough statistics to know how shaky its empirical base was - but noted that he was "strongly in favor of restricted and selected immigration." In December, 1929 - after the crash but before the depression Hoover declared that restriction of immigration had proved "a sound national policy." But, in typical progressive fashion, he still maintained that it ought to be possible to find "a method by which the limited number of immi­grants whom we do welcome" suit "our national needs." A year later however, Hoover told Congress that: "There is a need for revision of our immigration laws upon a more limited and more selective basis, flexible to the needs of the country." Under the impact of the beginnings of the Great Depression, the President had determined that national needs dictated far fewer immigrants. "Under conditions of current unemployment it is obvious that persons coming to the United States seeking work would likely become either direct or indirect public charges. As a temporary measure the officers issuing visas to immigrants have been...instructed to refuse visas to applicants likely to fall into this class. As a result the visas issued have decreased from an average of about 24,000 a month prior to restrictions to a rate of about 7,000 during the last month. These are largely preferred persons under the law. Visas from Mexico are about 250 per month compared to about 4,000 previous to restrictions. The whole subject requires exhaustive reconsideration." In December 1931, almost 9 months after the document under discussion, he recommended to Congress that these administrative restrictions "be placed upon a more definite basis by law," that deportation laws be strengthened and that all aliens in the country be forced to carry residence certificates, a form of internal passport. These proposals were not acted on by Congress. In his final annual message, the defeated president had nothing further to recommend about immigration, but during the 1932 campaign he had taken credit for "rigidly restricted immigration." Thus, with the kind of creative reinterpretation of the law usually credited to his immediate successor, Hoover completely changed the meaning of the "l.p.c. clause." In 1882 the original phrase had been "paupers or persons likely to become a public charge" and the intent had been to exclude, not poor persons, but persons incapable of supporting themselves. But Hoover's claim of credit was misleading. The new administrative interpretation of the "l.p.c. clause" had actually begun at the tail end of the Coolidge administration. As early as September 1928 the State Department instructed American consular officials in Mexico to apply standards more stringently. Hoover's directive gave consular officials enormous latitude, which some used with murderous effect a few years later. The new interpretation of the old clause was eventually stretched so that many consuls were able to require immigrants either to have substantial assets in their possession or a sponsor in the US who would file an affidavit attesting a willingness to support the immigrant if necessary and an ability to do so.

Roger Daniels, Charles Phelps Taft Professor Emeritus of History
University of Cincinnati

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