Editorial: A vicious bill (10-25-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (October 25, 1941)

A vicious bill

A few days hence, the House of Representatives will consider H.R. 3, otherwise known as the Hobbs concentration-camp bill.

If there is any justification whatsoever for this legislation, we haven’t been able to find it.

It is not proposed as a defense measure, but as a permanent law governing the treatment of aliens who have been ordered deported but who for one reason or another cannot be deported; for instance, aliens whose country of origin refuses to permit their return, or whose country of origin has ceased to exist.

The bill would place such aliens under the arbitrary control of a board of politically-appointed bureaucrats in the Justice Department, giving the board power to imprison these non-citizens without a trial by jury and without indictment. And in some cases the imprisonment could be for an indefinite period, meaning for life, if the board decreed.

In many ways, this bill is more vicious than any of the famous alien and sedition laws which the Federalists put over in the Adams administration and which the people repudiated in the subsequent political campaign by putting the Jeffersonians in power.

In that first great American political struggle where the issue of civil liberties was dominant, the Kentucky Legislature adopted a resolution which Jefferson himself wrote, observing that:

…the friendless alien has indeed been selected as the safest subject of a first experiment; but the citizen will soon follow.

Of the harshest of those alien acts, James Madison said:

It dispenses with trial by jury, it violates the judicial system… It punishes without trial and it bestows upon the President despotic powers over a numerous class of men. Are such measures consistent with our constitutional principles? And will an accumulation of power so extensive in the hands of the Executive, over aliens, secure to natives the blessings of Republican liberty?

An important difference is that the Hobbs bill does not give this vast power to the President, who after all is elected by the people. The Hobbs bill gives the power to three non-elected bureaucrats.

No one has yet proved that any good purpose would be served by the legislation. To the contrary, the authority to imprison men without trial, carrying with it the discretion to grant liberty to the same men, would give this political board the power to coerce the aliens into serving as stool pigeons, spying on other aliens, and on citizens as well. Could that be the evil underlying purpose of this bill? We are afraid it is.

We have adequate laws dealing with aliens and with criminals, citizens or non-citizens. If not, those laws can be tightened without circumventing judicial processes and the Bill of Rights. The Hobbs bill should be defeated. We don’t need concentration camps or stool pigeons in this country.