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Guide to the Records of the American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born TAM.086

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
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Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Collection processed by Amy Meselson

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on May 02, 2018
Description is in English. using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical / Historical

The American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born (1933-1982), based in New York City, was founded for the purpose of defending the rights of the foreign born, especially radicals and Communist Party members, thereby filling a void left by other civil rights defense groups. The Committee's formation was initiated by Roger Baldwin of the American Civil Liberties Union. The Committee pursued its aims through litigation, legislation and public education. In its early years, the Committee's activity focused of campaigning for asylum rights for those refugees who had fled European fascism in the 1930s and were facing deportation. Although no legislative changes were won at this time, ACPFB victories for individuals set precedents and aroused public support. Toward the end of the decade, the ACPFB formed a group to protect those who had gone to Spain to fight against Franco and who had entered or re-entered the United States illegally. With the outbreak of World War II, the Committee's attentions turned toward promoting national unity against fascism. The ACPFB also aided Japanese Americans who were being relocated by the U.S. government, though relocation itself was not opposed. The major individual defense case during the war years was that of CPUSA leader William Schneiderman, whose naturalization was cancelled due to his membership in the Young Workers' League and the Workers' Party. The ACPFB won a reversal of the cancellation in 1943. The Committee also defended the Australian-born labor leader, Harry Bridges, against deportation starting in 1940. At the end of the war in 1945, the Committee began to work to abolish racial discrimination in immigration policy, and to reform immigration law, with special consideration for foreign born individuals who had served in the armed forces or in the merchant marine. It also worked to strengthen progressive currents among the foreign born that had been weakened by postwar anti-Communist propaganda.

The advent of the Cold War saw increased efforts to deport foreign born trade unionists and Communists, and attacks on the ACPFB itself. In June of 1948, Attorney General Tom C. Clark added the ACPFB to his department's list of "subversive" organizations. With the passage of the McCarran Internal Security Act in 1950 and the McCarran-Walter Immigration Act of 1952, the Committee's activity became increasingly geared toward the defense of Communist Party members. In 1950, Attorney General Brownell applied to the Subversive Activities Control Board (established under the McCarran Act) to require the ACPFB to register as a Communist Party front organization. In 1951, the Committee's executive secretary, Abner Green, was imprisoned for six months for his refusal to submit the names of the Committee's contributors to a Federal grand jury in New York. The death of Carol King, the Committee's general counsel, after ten years of service to the ACPFB, made the Committee's work more difficult. In 1955, Abner Green was ordered to appear before the New York State Supreme Court on the ground that the Committee was violating the law that applied to charitable organizations. The court proceedings ran for two years at the end of which the New York State Supreme Court secured an ex parte injunction restraining the Committee from all activities including receiving and spending money. The injunction was lifted later that month, but the Committee continued to be enjoined from public solicitation of funds.

Although its subsequent registration as a charitable organization (with the stipulation that it would not release the names of its donors) allowed the Committee to commence again its solicitation of funds, the effects of these attacks were crippling. The Committee was forced to give up either its direct defense of foreign born in courts or its general work in areas of public opinion and legislation. The Committee decided to preserve activity in the latter area.

The 1957 Supreme Court decision to reverse the deportation of Charles Rowoldt (defended by the Minnesota Committee for Protection of Foreign Born), which had been ordered on the ground of membership in the Communist Party, was the first victory of its kind in the ACPFB's history. It paved the way for future successes. Although the revision or repeal of the McCarran-Walter Act remained a major focus of the Committee's activity, by 1960 the issue of political deportations had receded significantly into the background.

The 1960s brought an increasing focus on the discriminatory treatment of Mexican immigrants and West Indian workers, an issue the Committee had begun to devote attention to a decade earlier, as Latin American immigrants were increasingly subject to illegal harassment by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The ACPFB also campaigned against deportation through the establishment of a statute of limitation, the elimination of supervisory parole and the defense of the right of the foreign born to free speech and association. Efforts on behalf of Latin American immigrant workers continued and intensified in the next decades as INS raids and round-ups increased. Numerous pamphlets, leaflets, petitions, press releases and demonstrations denounced and demanded an end to "dragnet immigration raids," and the scapegoating of aliens. Much of this action centered around the campaign to defeat the Rodino Bill, and later the Field-Knorr Bill, both of which proposed the establishment of sanctions against employers of "illegal" aliens.

The Committee also defended the right of Haitian refugees to political asylum. In 1977 it welcomed a Federal Grand Jury ruling that random street arrests by the INS were illegal. Successes were also won in the late 1970s in the area of the right to public education for children regardless of their parents' immigration status. In 1982 the ACPFB was absorbed by the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee and formally dissolved.