Debating Immigration: Wagner-Rogers Bill

Con Wagner-Rogers Bill

Heroes for Sale, 1933, Cracked

Legislators were hesitant to back a bill that would increase foreign populations due to poor economic conditions and the threat of war.

Excerpt from "Americans and the Holocaust" Exhibit, Part 1, C-SPAN

Senator Reynolds (D- NC) followed the lead of Dies to limit immigration.  This idea was embraced by his white, protestant, unemployed constituency.

"My heart goes out in sympathy to the refugee children, but, I repeat, my heart beats in sympathy first for American Sons and daughters in preference to the children of fathers and mothers of any other nation in the world."

~ Robert R. Reynolds, NC senator and leader of opposition to the bill

Sen. Robert R. Reynolds of N.C., Jan. 1940, Library of Congress

Remarks from Senator Robert Reynolds

Appendix to the Congressional Record (p. 2424–2425)
Our Country, Our Citizens First — Extension of Remarks of Hon. Robert R. Reynolds Wednesday, June 7, 1939

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The Wagner-Rogers bill would result in the expulsion of 15,000 immigrants who were legally in the country on visitor permits.

KZ Auschwitz, Ankunft ungarischer Juden, 1944, Wikimedia Commons

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Excerpts from the Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

"There are in this country at the present time quite a large number—I think you had better check these figures through the Secretary of Labor, but I am inclined to think that they run as high as twelve to fifteen thousand refugees from, principally, Germany and Austria—what was Austria—who are in this country on what are called 'Visitors' Permits,' I think that is the word. In other words, they are here, not on a quota, but as visitors with proper passports from their own governments."

~ President Franklin D. Roosevelt


This response by President Roosevelt portrays his hesitancy to formally support the Child Refugee Bill, reflecting the general fears of the country.

In a 1941 address to the Senate, Robert Reynolds clearly expresses his opinion on alien immigration to America.

"I wish to say — and I say it without the slightest hesitation — that if I had my way about it at this hour, I would today build a wall about the United States so high and so secure that not a single alien or foreign refugee from any country upon the face of this earth could possibly scale or ascend it."
~ Robert R. Reynolds

Close the Gate, 1919, Wikimedia Commons

"I repeat that the bringing of foreigners into the United States is a direct attack against the national-defense program. America does not need the foreigners. We have no room for them and their progeny. We have our own disabled, our own homeless, our own sick and hungry, our own uneducated, our own slums and sharecroppers, our own problems, chief of which is to


Gentlemen, I know that the over 500,000 Regulars of this Nation join me in urging the defeat of this bill and every other bill that proposes to bring foreigners to this country. We feel for these homeless foreigners, but we cannot and must not forget our own flesh and blood nor our own free – so far, thank God – America and Americans."

~ J. E. Nieman, educational director, Regular Veterans Association, April 19, 1939 to the Senate Immigration Committee, Washington, D.C.

Excerpt from "Americans and the Holocaust" Exhibit, Part 1, C-SPAN