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CanadianReview of American Studies Volume 24, Number 1, Winter 1994, pp. 81-111 Emanuel Celler of Brooklyn: Leading Advocate of Liberal Immigration Policy, 1945-52 BernardLemelin 81 Immigration was a prominent issue during the Truman era. Indeed, several significant laws were enacted at this time. These included the War Brides Act of 1945, the Displaced Persons Acts of 1948 and 1950, the Internal Security Act of 1950, the Immigration and Nationality (McCarran-Walter) Act of 1952, and some momentous measures relating to Mexican agricultural labour and the so-called wetback problem. Particularly noteworthy were the Displaced Persons Acts, which constituted the "first significant refugee legislation in American history" (Higham 1975, 61) and the McCarran -Walter Act, which marked the end of the "long postwar debate over the nature of American immigration policy" (Divine 1957, 185-86). Among the politicians most heavily involved in the question of immigration in these years, New York Representative Emanuel Celler of the fifteenth district was undoubtedly one the most important. Celler (1888-1981) introduced more than forty bills relating to immigration during the period 1945-52 (Lemelin 1991, 442-51). This Democratic congressman, of Jewish descent and a lawyer by profession, had been a member of the House of Representatives since 1923 and was particularly well-known in the postwar period for his Zionism, his opposition to the anticommunist crusade and his cosponsorship of the Celler-Kefauver Anti-Merger Act of 1950 (Schoenebaum 1978, 85-86). Surprisingly, however, the historical literature relating to Emanuel Celler is not extensive: the sole exhaustive portrait remains his autobiography 82 Canadian Review of American Studies published in 1953 (Celler 1953). Of course, the numerous studies dealing with the immigration debates of the Truman period frequently refer to Celler's activities,1 but they do not focus on him. For example, Celler's motivations have received scant attention. A major explanation lies in the fact that most authors have largelyignored the rich insights contained in the papers of the New Yorker. This essay seeks to fulfil three objectives: to describe Emanuel Celler's stance in the field of immigration during the Truman years, to explain his liberal attitude, and to analyze his contribution to the debates on that issue. A High Level of Involvement The Seventy-Ninth Congress. During the seventy-ninth Congress (1945-46), Celler missed no occasion to denigrate the foundation of American immigration policy: the national origins quota system2 introduced by the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924. In a letter dated 24 September 1946, he drew attention to its iniquitous charac-ter: "Our present immigration policy is an abomination, based as it is on the ridiculous national origin theory. Aryans are preferred. Italians, Slavs and Semites are discouraged. Such deliberate division of races is not unlike the Hitler schism of Herrenvolk and Sklavenvolk" (Celler, "Celler to the Edi-tor," Emanuel Celler Papers [hereinafter referred to as ECP], 1946). These remarks were not out of character considering the fact that the New Yorker had already condemned such a system in the twenties (Celler 1953,79-81).3 Emanuel Celler, preoccupied by European refugees in the thirties,4 was also concerned with the displaced persons, the name given to the hundreds of thousands of East Europeans and Central Europeans, also known as "DPs," piling up in the Western zones of Germany and Austria, as well as in other European countries, at the end of World War II. In his attempt to resolve this major problem,5 he first advocated free access to Palestine for Jewish refugees.6 Thus, in late July 1946, he led a delegation of New York congressmen to the White House, exhorting President Truman to maintain his pressure on the British government to permit the immediate admission of 100,000European Jews to Palestine (New York Times 31 July 1946)7.As for British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin's charges that American lobbying Bernard Lemelin I 83 infavour of the Jewish refugees was the exclusive affair of a few New York politicians (Jenkins 1986, 116), Celler retorted that "Palestine is not 'an extreneous [sic] issue' that concerns only a 'few New Yorkers."' As he elaborated : "You cannot disregard the 400 members of the House of Representatives and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 81-111
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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