The really crucial point, which this Act [S. 984] scarcely faces, is the steady stream of illegal immigrants from Mexico, the so-called ‘wetbacks,’ who cross the Rio Grande or the western stretches of our long border, in search of employment. These people are coming into our country in phenomenal numbers — and at an increasing rate. Last year 500,000 illegal immigrants were apprehended and returned to Mexico. In 1949, less than 300,000 were returned.

There are many thousands of these people who have escaped detection and remain in this country today. Thousands more will find their way here before the year is out. Since these unfortunate people are here illegally, they are subject to deportation if caught by our immigration authorities. They have to hide and yet must work to live. They are thus in no position to bargain with those who might choose to exploit them.

And many of them are exploited, I regret to say, and are left in abject poverty. They live always under the threat of exposure and deportation. They are unable, therefore, to protest or to protect themselves.

The presence of these illegal workers has a seriously depressing effect on wages and working conditions in farm areas throughout the southwest. The standards of living and job opportunities of American farm workers are under constant downward pressure. Thousands of our own citizens, particularly those of Latin descent, are displaced from employment or forced to work under substandard conditions because of the competition of these illegal immigrants.

Everyone suffers from the presence of these illegal immigrants in the community. They themselves are hurt, first of all. Our own workers — as well as the legal contract workers from Mexico — are hurt by the lowering of working and living standards. And the farmers are hurt, too. Instead of a well trained, reliable supply of workers, they are increasingly dependent on a rapidly-shifting, ill-trained domestic labor force, supplemented legally or illegally from foreign sources. They face a crisis in their labor supply at every season. They are forced, year after year, to makeshift last-minute measures to save their crops.

Harry Truman, July 13, 1951

See what others have said about illegal immigration.