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I'd like to ask you a question. How often during the last political campaign have you sat in your home watching TV or listening to the radio and wished that somehow you could talk back to the voices on radio and TV to agree with them or to disagree. But above all to speak your own mind on the issue and to know that the owner of The Voice be he a senator a Labor leader or a commentator would have to listen to you and to reply to your comments. Well the people talk back the radio series which begins with this broadcast is designed to give people in different parts of the country just this opportunity to express their views on some of the major issues of the day. Listen for a moment to some people talking back to a United States
congressman and to a Pulitzer Prize winning author on this issue is our immigration law meeting our needs or our prejudices. Congressman Walsh why did you give your preference to the nodding before all of you. And grander than two trays onto the croft. When the rest of the world. Mind you I mean the rest of the world. You only give them one take. Professor Hanlon there is one good feature in this and that is that for the first time. The Asiatics have an immigration quota to enter this country because we're going to climb the hillock he would prefer not to have any quota. You haven't stated the things you are for your just stated what you're opposed to. I can't agree with you Congressman Walters. I can't agree with your 5 year
orientation period. Because that would mean that the immigrant immigrant with a second class citizen and that isn't really quite fair because under our Constitution we're all equal. And as you can hear these people are really beginning to express themselves to talk back by way of question or calm that they are but a few of the 15 persons in Wisconsin Washington California New York and Massachusetts whom you will be hearing during the next hour or so. The congressman is Francis Walter of Pennsylvania co-author of the McCarren Walter Immigration Act the author is a noted historian Professor Oscar handlin of Harvard University. You may know his Pulitzer Prize book
the up rooted which is the epic story of the immigrant and of the great migrations across our country. Congressman Walter and Professor handlin specially recorded brief statements about immigration. These statements were sent on to five different areas of the country where producers of educational radio programs took their tape recorders into people's homes offices and workplaces so that people could hear of these statements and then talk back. Well that in a nutshell is how the Talk Back idea works to develop radio into a two way avenue of communication. The National Association of educational broadcasters thought the idea was well worth trying and that's how this experiment began. Now perhaps I should tell you who I am and what I do on this program. My name is Robert Merton. I'm a teacher at Columbia
University and I have a professional interest in mass communications on this program. It's my job to act as a. Well what's called a clarifier. Now let me explain what a clarifier is supposed to do. It's not his job to take sides in the discussion to try to decide whether one speaker or another is in the right. Nor does he try to moderate or to summarize for discussion. It's simply his job to listen carefully to everything that is being said and then to try to analyze what actually happens in this give and take between the two speakers and the people talking back to them later in this discussion. I'll be coming back to compare notes with you to see if we happened to notice some of the same things that have been going on. When the people talk back
now about this program dealing with the new immigration law and perhaps the best way to start off is to put you and the people who talk back on equal footing by having you hear of the statements by Congressman Walter and by Professor handlin exactly as they were heard by people in different parts of the United States. First Congressman Walter of Pennsylvania answering the question is our immigration law meeting our needs or our prejudices. It is my considered opinion that our new immigration law meets our needs and that it is completely free of prejudice of any kind since it treats every individual regardless of his race creed or national origin. On the same basis in substantiation of this statement let me make the following points. First the needs of our national economy are met by the new law on a
twofold basis. Contrary to the established tradition based on the first come first served formula under the new law we will admit first those immigrants who possess special skills or highly specialized experience needed by our economy and immigrant whose services are needed by American governmental agencies private industry agricultural or medical scientific or educational institutions will come first. Thus by offering an alien hospitality and opportunities in our midst we will obtain his services benefiting our needs. On the other hand by maintaining our quota system which is simply the equivalent of a ceiling placed on the number of persons who may enter the United States in any 12 month period we offer full protection to our labor force by eliminating the possibility of gutting our labor market. We must constantly bear in mind that there is now. I think prominent in our periods of industrial and agricultural
boom and the possibilities of recession or depression are ever present in our overall economic picture and times when we had no numerical limitation of our immigration prior to 1901 our labor unions were in the forefront of a nationwide fight for such ceilings. In addition by limiting the number of new arrivals we make sure that they will be properly assimilated and fully digested by our economy which is certainly to their own benefit. Thus in this instance again that it was on meets our needs as well as the needs of the immigrant who is in every individual case a future citizen of this country. And now a word about prejudice. Have you unanimously agreed on what the overall total number of our immigrants should be. We have to provide. And that would have a way of cutting up that immigration pie. The only practical system offered thus far is a principle of national origin which in simple language
means that every nation in the world gets one slice of that pie the size of the slice being percentage wise. Scale to the number of natives of that nation who now live in the United States by applying this formula we give equal treatment everyone. We do not exclude anyone and we maintain the ethnic composition of our nation as it was created in the melting pot of the people of all races. That was Congressman Walter on the subject and here is how Oscar Hanlon addressed himself to the question. I mean he's an gentleman the McCarren Malta laws enacted over President Truman's veto is one of the worst ever to come out of an American Congress. This legislation is important because it tells the people of the rest of the world what we think of them. And because it makes very critical judgments about large parts of our own population. Let me briefly tell you some of its faults.
Passing over many matters of detail such as the arbitrary powers it gives consular officials I can concentrate on two vital points at which the law violates fundamental American principles the Act provides that an alien naturalized in good faith thereupon enters a trial period of five years if during that period he becomes a communist his citizenship is revoked. Now Americans have never tolerated the idea of classes of citizenship Never before has a law declared one group of Americans inferior in rights to another. If we wish to penalize citizens who join the Communist Party the penalty ought to apply to all citizens. But if it is legal for Native Americans to be communists it or equally to be legal for the naturalized. The equality of all citizens under the law is and ought to remain one of the central precepts of our Constitution.
The McCarren Walter act is also offensive by the mains it uses to select those who may emigrate. Like the law of 1924 which it follows it assumes that mankind is divided into fixed races some of which us appear ia to others and therefore better fitted to become Americans. All the peoples of the earth are ranked according to their desirability and given greater or lesser national origins quotas. The British and the Germans that stand at the top of the list far above such folk as the attack ends or the Poles the colored peoples are especially discriminated against. Our whole experience contradicts that assumption. Allow to settle in peace. Every variety of man has been able to make a place for himself and to enrich American life. The people who not long ago were being assailed as riffraff Greeks Armenians Poles Italians Jews other respected parents of respected citizens today they have a right to
resent the imputation that they are in any way inferior to other Americans and the limits we set on immigration should be in terms of our country's needs and not of racist prejudices. Our laws should allow us to lead to our population as many desirable men and women as we need. The quota law of 1924 did not do so. The law of 1952 does not do so. Both rest on the era for the national origins quote on which both the pen is contrary to the historic meaning of America and American ism. There are strength springs from our diversities. And that's just how the citizens heard Congressman Walter and Professor hand when they bend talk back their recorded comments were collected and made available to the speakers. Here is Parker Wheatley. General Manager of WGBH Boston presenting the questions to Mr.
Hanlon. Professor Hanlon. Who. I have here some recorded questions from people in Madison Wisconsin. Pullman Washington. They are in Los Angeles and Boston. As you know we intended to play these comments to Congressman Walker and yourself so that you in turn might talk back to the people. But unfortunately it hasn't been possible to record cause of the war. Our producer Roth telling me he's made every effort over the last two months to arrange a recording. But it's now evident that the pressures of Congressman Walters private and public life prevent his being here although he was kind enough to make the original recording. So we particularly appreciate Professor Hamlyn your willingness to complete the program and comment on the various questions including those originally intended for college water.
I'm glad to be here. The question is important. A report of the president's commission a little while ago has illustrated its importance and whatever can be done to stimulate the thinking of the public about this crucial issue is certainly worth doing. All right then Professor Hanlon Suppose we go by way of tape recording to New York City for the first person to talk back. He will be John Luke Casey Mr. Luke Casey has been a barber for over 25 years. Sometimes he's worked for himself. Sometimes you work for other people. Still a case he spent two months in Europe this summer and we recorded what he wanted to say in a barbershop in New York. Incidentally you may have to listen pretty carefully at the end of the statement because the elevator went by during the recording.
Mr Lou Casey. Congressman Watt Why did you give a preference to the nodding people of you. And grander them of the cross. When the rest of the world. Mind you I mean the rest of the world. You only give them one thing. Mr. Congressman I think that's injustice because we in America. As a counter to the Constitution and according to the creed of the people we have never prejudice against anybody we free people. We don't discriminate anybody. But tell me why this thing. It would have been well had Congressman Walter been here to answer this very critical question. In they day distribution of a quote is by
national origins is very unfair. It does us miss the Lucchese points out gave an overwhelming majority of the total places of a country's northern and western Europe and does discriminate against the countries of southern and eastern Europe and against the rest of the world. It does so because they are congressmen and senators who passed the original law of 1924 which created this system. Did Bill A. Well we no longer believe that there were racial differences among my various peoples of the world and that the so-called Nordic area and peoples of northwestern Europe worse a pair to those of the rest of the world. They problem for us is whether Wei
wish to retain this outmoded system based on beliefs none of us holds any longer or whether they will adopt the new plan more in accord with our present ne. Many of us will listen with pleasure to life with Luigi on the radio would find it hard to believe that a flu A.J. were applying for admission to the United States now he would very likely have to wait 80 years or so before the gates would be open to him. You say 80 years Professor Hammond. But doesn't the Italian quarter amount to something like 5000 a year. Why 80 years for Luigi. Well the quota itself is small but in addition more than half of it has been more gauged a long way in
advance. When Congress several years ago relaxed our stringent laws to permit a number of displaced persons to enter the United States it did so with a proviso that half the quotas of the countries from which the displaced persons came would be more a gauge than tell of a number admitted what they made up. In the case of Italy and Greece this is a particularly harsh and burdensome provision. First ahem let's go to Boston. And here Jeanne. God I told this guy dimes a signature and we recorded her in office. I have two questions one for Professor Henry and one for Congressman Walter Jones professor Hanlon isn't it true that that some people immigrating into this country have a have a much tougher time than
being a much tougher time being assimilated to our way of life. I mean their language and ways make it make it much more difficult for them. And if this is true then then don't you think the national origin quota system go in letting people come here and in proportion to their own kind already living here. It seems to me that this estimate would assure that the immigrant is is well taken care of. And then coming from Walter I'd like to ask you why you used the census of nineteen twenty four to set up a naphtha quota system when it is fair to use the 1950 census. I wonder to me that given that a much more accurate way of deciding me and setting up the Oregon system let me turn first to the question this guardeen asked of me than if I may. Let me briefly attempt to answer the question she asked
Congressman Walter. I asked for the first question they promise of a question is not true and that will resolve most of her difficulties. The wonderful thing about our country and its institutions it seems to me is they way it has been capable of receiving all kinds of people and the making of them all Americans. I don't know of any evidence that shows one kind of people assimilates or finds a place for itself in American life any better any more properly than another kind. One kind of decisive evidence we have is that the adjustment depends first on the length of time that people have been in the United States and secondly on the amount of
opportunities that are open to them after they come. How one of a misleading features of early legislation say in 1920 was the fact that the commissions which investigated the immigrants took people like the Italians and compare them with people like the a German as the Italians having been here only 10 to 20 years. The Germans as a group having a history here that went back then about 80 years and naturally they found some kinds of differences not very much as a matter of fact but some kinds of differences between the Germans and the Italians. But if you take the same groups now after. Both groups have been here at least 40 or 50 years there are no differences in a similar ability whatsoever. And it's
partly for that reason that I feel very strongly that the national origin system is fallacious and rests on old prejudices rather than on any present needs. Now Professor Hammond. Would you mind commenting on Mr gardyn second question addressed to become Grossman asking him why the 1950 census wasn't used instead of the nine thousand twenty census census of 1950 wasn't used because it would have raised the quotas of southern and eastern Europeans somewhat over the level of a figures based on 1920 census. I can only conclude from that that those who insisted on keeping the 1920 census did so because they did not wish to
raise those quotas. Certainly a 1950 census would give us a better picture of what we are today than the 19 20 census. And it would be a picture in a would be fairer to the southern and eastern Europeans because between 1920 and 1950 they have had children and have tended to increase in them. Probably more so than the older Stark's. Professor Hamlyn Here's another Boston person to talk back. She's Gene older this oldest parents are Japanese although Jean herself is a United States citizen because of being born in this country. Now she's a student at Brandeis University in Waltham Massachusetts. And we recorded her one night in her Boston apartment. Professor And from what I've read of the
McCann deal I know that there are some injustices in the court system of the European countries but there is one good feature in this bill and that is. That for the first time. The Asiatics have an immigration court addressed to this country. I hear that it's a small quota but as small as it may be it seems to be a step forward and not backward. Up til now the Asiatics have resented being treated like second class peoples. I know this personally because I lived in Japan for several years. And my family is still living there in. America. Try to propagate the democratic ideals on one hand and closed her doors to the Asiatics on the other hand. And. By giving this immigration quota to the Orientals
living up to their. Ideals and principles for the first time. Miss OTA is partly correct I would say the McCarren Act takes a half a step forward it's true that Asiatics do get a quota for the first time. This is a very desirable step and it is a great improvement over the earlier in so far as this step is taken. But any quota that Asiatics get is not the same kind of quota that Europeans get and Asiatics in the act are still treated as second class citizens second class people. They act provides for an Asia-Pacific triangle that triangle receives a series of
quotas. But unlike the people of the rest of the world whose quotas are based on the place of their birth they people are of the Asia Pacific triangle receive quotas based on their race and on their inheritance. ROSS For instance if a person is born in London whose parents are partly Chinese that person is not assigned an English quota. If he wishes to migrate to the United States but must be placed on a far smaller Chinese quota. In other words. In her racial inheritance from the countries of the Asia-Pacific triangle is considered in the radical ball
for at least two generations. And to that extent a law still contains very serious kinds of racial prejudices directed against Asiatics and Wiley initial reception of this lore among the people of Asia and among their descendants in America has been favorable because the more invidious the think sions of the earlier law have been wiped out. I imagine that when the details of these provisions become known they will be resented in the same way that the earlier law was resented. First to him and Let's head west and hear Maine from Wisconsin too. This is Robert Merton again. Before we do head west and continue
with the discussion by the man from Wisconsin. We might pause a moment to review some of what we've heard so far. And one point struck me in particular and that is how a sense of history affects current appraisals legislation such as the McCarren Walter act. After all an individual's direct experience is bound to be limited and at best that experience can be recorded in his own diary or a journal or simply locked up in his memory. A nation's experience on the other hand is recorded in that nation's history in a way its history is its memory and that provides one basis for examining current problems in the light of past experience.
I've always felt that the philosopher who said that men learn from history only that men never learn from history that that philosopher was a little too pessimistic. But of course a sense of history is not very easy to come by. And most of us most of the time form our opinions and make our judgments pretty largely on the basis of what we see about us. Take the case for example of the Boston secretary Miss gardyn who felt that the national origins quota system was probably justified because she herself had noted that some present day immigrants seemed to have a great deal of difficulty in adjusting to the new world. I mean their language in ways make it make it much more difficult for them.
And if this is true then don't you think the national origin quota system good letting people come here in proportion to their own kind already living here seems to me that this is timid. What is sure is that the immigrant is is well taken care of. In other words miscarriage falls back on their own experience to arrive at her own opinion. Historians on the other hand are not limited to their own direct experience. In fact it's their job to unlock the nation's memory as it were. They can review the present situation in the light of past comparable situations and all historians of immigration know of course that this problem of assimilating the so-called new immigrant is one which has turned up repeatedly in the course of the nation's history.
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People talk back
Is our immigration law meeting our needs or prejudices?, part one
Producing Organization
National Association of Educational Broadcasters
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program, the first of three parts, features Professor Oscar Handlin and U.S. Representative F. E. Walter of Pennsylvania discussing what citizens have to say about Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952.
Series Description
This series presents a series of questions posed to politicians about current affairs.
Broadcast Date
Politics and Government
Public opinion--20th century.
Media type
Funder: Fund for Adult Education (U.S.)
Host: Merton, Robert King, 1910-2003
Producer: Tangley, Ralph
Producing Organization: National Association of Educational Broadcasters
Speaker: Wheatley, Parker, 1906-1999
Speaker: Handlin, Oscar, 1915-2011
Speaker: Walter, Francis E. (Francis Eugene), 1894-1963
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 53-13-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:31:52
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Chicago: “People talk back; Is our immigration law meeting our needs or prejudices?, part one,” 1953-03-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 3, 2023,
MLA: “People talk back; Is our immigration law meeting our needs or prejudices?, part one.” 1953-03-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 3, 2023. <>.
APA: People talk back; Is our immigration law meeting our needs or prejudices?, part one. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from