Preexamination and Its Alternatives: The Provision and Experience of Discretionary Relief for Certain Unauthorized Immigrants to the U.S., 1935–1959
Camarda, William J.
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CitationCamarda, William J. 2021. Preexamination and Its Alternatives: The Provision and Experience of Discretionary Relief for Certain Unauthorized Immigrants to the U.S., 1935–1959. Master's thesis, Harvard University Division of Continuing Education.
AbstractAfter new U.S. immigration laws in 1917, 1921, and 1924 established a regime of unprecedented restriction, some advocates and migrants argued that greater administrative flexibility was needed to provide relief in hardship cases. While both liberalizers and restrictionists generally accepted the broad framework of national origins quotas, they fiercely debated what additional exceptions or amnesties should be provided, if any. These debates were often framed as competing narratives about the character of the migrants themselves. With Congressional reform proposals stalled, U.S. Immigration Commissioner Daniel W. MacCormack and Labor Secretary Frances Perkins crafted a new form of administrative relief, commonly known as “preexamination.”
Certain aliens would henceforth be preexamined inside the U.S. by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and granted permission to travel to an adjacent American consulate outside the country, usually in Canada, to request a visa. As the U.S. State Department had already performed a preliminary review, the visa would generally be granted, but consular officers retained authority to reject it. If rejected, the individual would be readmitted to the U.S. without a visa, an action of disputed legality. From 1935 to 1959, over 50,000 aliens were granted legal status through preexamination.
This thesis first presents a history of the procedure, detailing its origins, the domestic and cross-border controversies surrounding it, its evolution through the World War II and Cold War eras, and how it fit alongside other shifting forms of relief. Next, it presents eight case studies, illuminating the preexamination examination from the perspective of the diverse individuals who sought it, and those who assisted them. Then, drawing on official reports and border crossing manifest cards, it attempts to clarify how many individuals sought preexamination, and who they were. Utilizing a dataset of 674 apparent preexamination cases, it analyzes preexaminees by gender, national origin, previous legal status, quota or non-quota status, and other characteristics. In doing so, it sheds light on debated questions such as: How many preexaminees entered illegally during the 1920s or earlier? How many entered later, often on legal short-term visas, as refugees from Nazism? In what respects did preexamination reinforce, or undermine, the quota system’s racial and national origin goals? Finally, the thesis identifies unresolved questions and opportunities for further research.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37367616
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