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Franklin Delano Roosevelt Administration: Mention of Jewish Refugees in Press Conference

(November 18, 1938)

Excerpt from Press Conference:

Q. On Tuesday, Mr. President, you intimated that you did not propose, or would not consider, lowering the immigration barriers for the benefit of German refugees. Since that time a good deal has been said in print that you might do so after all. Have you changed your mind?

THE PRESIDENT. No. There is one other factor that was brought up, that is a brand new one, which I did not hear about until yesterday. 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. The situation apparently has arisen that, because of a recent decree, those visitors' passports will be canceled as of the thirtieth of December, this year.

Now, as a matter of practical fact, a great many of these people—who are not all Jews by any means, since other religions are included in very large numbers among them-if they were to get back to Germany before the thirtieth of December, a great many of them believe that their treatment on reaching home might be a very serious problem. In other words, it is a question of concentration camps, et cetera and so on. They are not here under a quota so we have a very definite problem as to what to do. I don't know, from the point of view of humanity, that we have a right to put them on a ship and send them back to Germany under the present conditions. We can legally—the Secretary of Labor can, legally—give six months extensions so that they can stay in this country under the six months extension provision. As I understand it, the law does not say how many six months extensions there can be—it does not limit the number. So what I told the Secretary of Labor yesterday was that it would be a cruel and inhuman thing to compel them to leave here in time to get back to Germany by the thirtieth of December. I have suggested to Miss Perkins that they be given six months extensions. Under those extensions they cannot, as I understand it, apply for American citizenship. They are only visitors. Therefore, there being no adequate law on the subject, we shall simply present the facts to the Congress. If the Congress takes no action, these unfortunate people will be allowed to stay in this country.

Sources: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States