Displaced Persons Act of 1948


As World War II ended in 1945, it was estimated that there were up to 11 million displaced survivors in German, Italy and Austria. A displaced person is someone who is expelled, deported or forced to flee from his country of residence as a consequence of war or oppression. Earl Harrison, Dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s Law School, was commissioned by President Truman to evaluate conditions of these people who were living in displaced persons camps throughout the U.S. occupation zone in Germany. He recommended to the President a massive transfer of population from Europe. He advised that these displaced persons should be resettled in British-controlled Palestine or the United States because anti-Semitism throughout Germany made conditions impossible for these people to return home. Upon reporting his findings to the President, it became Truman’s desire to offer many of these people a safe haven in the United States and delegated to Congress the task of enacting legislation for this purpose.

Truman’s Presidential statement of June 25, 1948 declares: “It is with very great reluctance that I have signed S. 2242, the Displaced Persons Act of 1948.” So, Truman really didn’t want this legislation. Why? He wanted a “fairer, more humane bill”. The bill he signed was “flagrantly discriminatory”. He claimed that it mocked America’s tradition of “fair play”. Well, to be honest, the gringa hadn’t seen much fairness in many of the immigration bills that passed except for, perhaps, the War Bride’s Act that had just passed in the same year. So, why, then did he demean himself to sign something he really didn’t want to put his name to? I mean, after all, he WAS the President, wasn’t he? So, is this just lip service or did he actually find himself in a position where he felt compelled to put his pen to a paper he reviled? Well, if he didn’t sign the bill, it would be another year such persons would have to wait for relief because the Act was delivered for his signature on the last day of the legislative session. These poor folk would have to wait until American Congressmen went back to work the next year. Truman decided it would be unfair to punish those who would benefit from the bill on behalf of those who had been left out. He signed it with the expressed intent that the resulting injustice would be “rectified by the Congress at the first opportunity”.

Truman then chastises the Eightieth Congress for their failure in producing a satisfactory bill, considering that they had ample time to get their act together. At Truman’s State of the Union Address a year and a half earlier he had instructed Congress that such legislation was needed.  Six months later, seeing that Congress had not responded to his direction, he reminded legislators, “We are dealing with a human problem, a world tragedy…” Eventually Congress would adjourn with nothing done. The following year on January 7, 1948, Truman once again reminded Congress that legislation was necessary so “that this Nation may do its share in caring for homeless and suffering refugees of all faiths. I believe that the admission of these persons will add to the strength and energy of the Nation.” After Truman’s third reminder within twelve months for Congress to get off their asses and do something to help relieve the suffering of the survivors of World War II, Congress once again thumbed their noses at their President and did nothing. Scheduled to deliver a report on their progress by January 10, 1948, three days after this reminder, instead they delivered a request for an extension until February 10. February 10 rolled around and these nincompoops sat on their hands, finally delivering a report in March.

Through various sundry methods, the Senate managed to delay any debate on the subject until the end of May. When the Senate finally got around to passing the bill on June 2, it was then up to the House to put in their two cents worth. Well, they delayed until June 11, which led to Senate and House members meeting in the very last days of the session to hammer out a compromise. So, the lives of European war survivors and their recovery are at stake and American politicians are playing American political games. The gringa is disgusted beyond measure with all of them except for good, ol’ Truman. The final product was what he was faced with which he said “consisted largely of combining the worst features of both the Senate and House bills.”

The only good thing Truman had to say about the bill was that it stated that “displaced persons should be admitted to the United States. Two hundred thousand displaced persons may be admitted in the next two years, as well as 2,000 recent Czech refugees and 3,000 orphans.” Well bless their little hearts. The Congressmen were being so generous and charitable to the world. The gringa hopes they didn’t break their arms when they went around patting themselves on their arrogant little backs.

Truman was the inspired leader of two of America’s most significant humanitarian actions, this bill and the War Brides Act of 1948. Unfortunately he was dealing with legislators that had been indoctrinated by centuries of race based agendas and, whether consciously or subconsciously, supported the superiority of Caucasians and habitually considered immigration legislation from the capitalist utopian perspective or for national security reasons. Truman’s perspective simply made no sense to these old establishment Congressmen. Truman was introducing a revolutionary point of view. These stiff old men in suits had been willing to bend a little bit on immigration legislation with regard to the War Bride’s Act but letting people into the country simply because the nation felt sorry for their destitute condition as the condition of war, and without religious prejudice, was unheard of. I’m sure the Congressmen could only wonder, “Will these beggars be in my district?” These immigrants would arrive broke and broken. They would not be citizens. As far as the Congressmen were concerned, they would contribute nothing, not even a potential vote. They would only be a burden. What was the motivation to write the legislation Truman wanted if these men did not have a humanitarian bone in their body?

Truman went on to mention that the bill was chock full of bad stuff. He said all this bad stuff created a “pattern of discrimination and intolerance”. Hmmm. And we wonder why we live in a society full of people that are in denial that discrimination, tolerance and racism still exists. Ummm, it’s been designed into the very fabric of American society from the moment the first pilgrim set foot on the continent of North America. The reason denyers cannot accept this is because of a very special tool, propaganda. This tool was used when the first capitalists convinced the world they were being religiously persecuted and had to flee to the New World. However, the reality was they just didn’t want to worship alongside Catholics under a king who desired to blend Catholicism, Presbyterianism and Anglicanism in order to create a religiously united kingdom.

The Puritans were the intolerant persecutors of Catholics who convinced their king to let them take all of their wealth across the pond and build him some new colonies that would deliver up to him enormous wealth. Actually, they wanted to escape with their wealth, build a capitalist utopia then, when enough wealth was amassed, revolt and establish their own country so that all their wealth would be their own and not subject to the king. And yet, so many of us thought they were high-minded, equality enlightened, poor little persecuted folk. That was the propaganda.

America was settled by white capitalists who designed a nation to be a capitalist utopia. Wealth is reserved for the white capitalists provided by the labor of other ethnicities or lower class whites. These classes were originally designed to remain a politically unrepresented, oppressed labor class. This same propaganda machine has never stopped churning out the subtle rhetoric that continues to reinforce these race and class based ideals. Now Truman came along and wanted to change the rules of the game and let people into the country simply because the nation cared about their welfare. The old white guys were threatened. The status quo was a good thing for them. This monkey wrench could really spoil their good times and ruin their America.

Truman minced no words as he criticized the bill as discriminating “in callous fashion against displaced persons of the Jewish faith.” Congress was well aware that more than ninety percent of the remaining Jews in need of relief were “definitely excluded.” Truman also points out that the Jews are not alone as subjects of religious discrimination. Catholics who deserved to be allowed entry were barred because of the imposed date deadline that also affected the Jews. It was the President’s sincerest “hope that the Congress will remedy this gross discrimination at its earliest opportunity.”

After raking Congress over the coals for their shameful discriminatory actions, he went on to criticize the bill because it applies the displaced persons who enter toward fifty percent of the quota allowed for other immigrants of respective countries. Truman found this deplorable because this would then affect immigration opportunities for certain ethnicities for generations. He believed this method was unacceptable because it would “deprive many other worthy people of an opportunity to come to the United States”. He believed the displaced persons should be recognized as a different classification of immigrants than the typical immigrant arriving as part of the established quota system.

Truman accused Congress of insulting the American people with this bill by treating the population as if they did not have the “capacity and willingness… to extend a welcoming hand to the prospective immigrants.” He felt there were unreasonable conditions contained within the bill. For example, these survivors of war would be required,  before entering the U.S., to have secured an employment prospect as well as “safe and sanitary housing”. Now, that’s just ridiculous considering many of these war survivors had lost everything except the clothes they arrived in and probably knew no one here as they had lost all of their family in the war. Fortunately, the American people lived up to Truman’s belief in their generosity. Relief organizations such as the National Catholic Welfare Council, the National Lutheran Council, the ChurchWorld Service, as well as the United Service for New Americans sponsored many of these immigrants, assuring Congress that such people would not become public liabilities. Congress may not have had generous hearts, but they obviously did not represent the American people who were willing to step up.

At the time of the bill’s passage, 15,000 displaced persons had already been welcomed into the United States and offered permanent residence which the bill revoked. Truman was absolutely disgusted with this prospect and the resulting special action that would be required to “adjust the status of individual aliens.” 15,000 individuals would have to bog down immigration courts with the necessary paperwork and hearings to change their status because the bigots in Washington wanted to undo the generous gift that Truman had given them. These Congressmen were not just Jew and Catholic haters, the gringa’s pretty sure they hated Truman, too.

Truman closed his statement calling the bill a “bitter disappointment”. His heart was truly in the right place because it was his desire to open up this rich nation for the “many displaced victims of persecution who looked to the United States for hope; to the millions of our citizens who wanted to help them in the finest American spirit, to the many Members of the Congress who fought hard but unsuccessfully for a decent displaced persons bill. I hope that this bitter disappointment will not turn to despair.”

The gringa also considers how insulting the behavior of Congress must have been to our surviving soldiers. The men who were part of liberating the concentration camps and witnessed first-hand the inhuman suffering that was meted out to these victims must have been filled with pride that they represented a country that not only rescued these survivors, but would also receive them and help them rebuild their lives in safety and acceptance. The gringa can only imagine how incensed and deeply hurt and disappointed the noble servicemen of America must have felt when Congress behaved in such a petty fashion with absolutely no honor.

This epic immigration battle placed Truman and the American people on one side and Congress on the other. The gringa thinks this struggle exposed the nation’s historical non-humanitarian immigration policy. The well-established pattern of U.S. history proves that immigration policies were driven by economics. When the nation needed cheap labor, it relaxed immigration in order to import a group of people that were easy to exploit because, as non-citizens, they had no political representation for their best interests. When economic times were bad, it was easy to target and blame the immigrants. If the politicians targeted any voting class, they could lose votes, so, again, the non-represented immigrant class was the safest scapegoat. They would be demonized and eventually immigration policy would be amended so that the scapegoats could be deported or, at least, have their entry into the country limited or even banned. This was the America the Congressman of 1948 had been trained up in. President Truman was a social revolutionary who wanted to bring the country forward towards a new era of diversity where immigration was humanitarian driven rather than determined by economic or political conditions. The people of the nation seemed to be forward thinkers falling in line with their President. This bit of history makes the gringa proud, even if the Congressmen did act like big dunderheads. Why? Because the gringa can smell hope in the air in 1948.

The gringa predicts that for today’s America, during the remaining time until the next Presidential election, certain political groups will demonize the un-documented immigrant class in America and blame them for high unemployment, low wages, and crime. It’s actually already begun. I ask my dear readers to believe nothing claimed by politicians or political interest groups. Go to a reliable source for facts to prove or disprove any claim they make. If you want crime statistics, go to www.FBI.gov. Any information under the sun can be found and validated by multiple sources with just the click of your mouse. Truth and truth alone is what will solve the real issues troubling our nation. Do not blindly follow a political party agenda because none of them have cornered the market on truth. If we simply pick the most popular scapegoat, and deceive ourselves that, “Hey, look! We just solved the problem!” we, too, have then become denyers and the problem is not only unsolved, but we have also created another problem by enacting a social policy on false information. And, if you’re unsure of what to believe, just ask the gringa!

Sources:

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/displaced%20person

http://library.uwb.edu/guides/usimmigration/1948_displaced_persons_act.html

http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=12942

http://immigrationinamerica.org/464-displaced-persons-act-of-1948.html

http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005462

Photo credit: www.uhaweb.hartford.edu

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gringaofthebarrio

A barrio gringa with a dream of cosmic proportions: writing to satiate my insatiable curiosity, worldwide literacy beginning with our youth, and to be the first barrio gringa to explore outer space!

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