Monday, February 27, 2017

August 1, 1941: Shape-Shifting Immigration Law

Letter from Marjorie Page Schauffler of AFSC to Opa


August 1st, 1941

Mr. Thomas Doeppner.
McPherson College.
McPherson, Kansas.

Dear Thomas Doeppner:

Miss Thieman asked me to take up with you the matter of your pre-examination procedure as soon as the new developments regarding visa application arising out of regulations instituted July 1st should be clarified.

While we do not yet advise that you should under any conditions leave the country for the immediate present, we believe that it is now possible for you to proceed with the first steps toward your change of status.

It is now necessary, before requesting pre-examination from Mr. Salisbury on the Form I-55 which you filled out in consultation with Miss Thieman, to send to the Visa Division of the State Department a biographical statement and two affidavits of support on required forms issued by the State Department July 1st in connection with their new visa application procedure. We are enclosing work sheets of these three forms (Form "B" and two Form "C") together with a description of procedure by the State Department (Form "A") and an informal instruction sheet of our own.

When the affiants have completed these work sheets, please have them returned to us for review, we will then mail them the official forms for final completion with any suggestions which may seem wise. We will be glad to forward the completed copies to the State Department with a covering letter from our Committee.

When the State Department approves the affidavits, they inquire from whatever Consul you indicate as the one whom you wish to consult whether there is a quota number available for you. If so, they will inform us of approval of papers and at that point you submit to Mr. Salisbury the pre-examination request which you have already prepared and which we shall hold in them meantime.

While we cannot guarantee that there will be no change in this procedure as outline above, we know that the affidavits will be required and believe it will save time to proceed with the preparations of them at once.

Very sincerely yours,

(Mrs.) Marjorie Page Schauffler

This letter goes a long way to show two things: 1) Immigration law is a shape-shifting beast that everyone has to figure out how to tame every time it changes colors; and 2) The arbitrary nature of the shape shifter requires groups like the AFSC and other non-profits to help people navigate the system. If you ever wondered why or if these groups help, this letter should be a good indicator of why immigrants today and yesterday need this help. It's complicated stuff.

I have a friend who works for the federal government, and I have learned so much from her. Policy change is very impactful. If we aren't directly affected by it, we could be completely unaware of a major shift in how things work. But by what she tells me of the amount of preparation and discussion that goes into the every day work of a federal employee- there is constant work to keep up or ahead of the changes. The rules may suddenly change and then it is up to the agency to make up the new forms and paperwork to reflect the change. Then the folks like the AFSC have to retrain themselves on how to use the new forms, how to best prepare their clients for successful integration. 

Meanwhile, it's all up for interpretation. It's largely arbitrary. So really what is happening is that the culture shifts and the agency has to print that shift in legal forms and the non-profits have to find the right pitch to make sure their people still have a chance. It's just bizarre.

Opa's path to permanent residency has shifted once again, and while the full course has not been illuminated, the folks at AFSC are confident that he can at least get started. So now he needs two affidavits and to consider the possibility that he may need to leave the country in the future. 

I did find out about that bill that Annelise was talking about in the last letter. She called it the Smith bill, and it was supposed to provide a path for immigrants to shift from temporary to permanent visas without leaving the country. I emailed my trusty librarian friends at the Holocaust museum and not surprisingly, I received a well-documented answer almost immediately. The short version: there was a bill, and it never made it. I think by this point in August it was already dead. 

So today: make a contribution to your local museum, library, archive, refugee non-profit. Or at the very least go hug a historian. We need their expertise. 

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