The Eleanor Roosevelt Encyclopedia

By Maurine H. Beasley; Holly C. Shulman et al. | Go to book overview
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WAGNER–ROGERS BILL. As the plight of German Jews* worsened in the 1930s, culminating in the burning of synagogues, looting of Jewish shops, and violent attacks against Jews throughout Germany on the night of 9–10 November 1938 (Kristillnacht), some Americans, including Eleanor Roosevelt, expressed growing concerns about the deteriorating situation. One response was the Wagner–Rogers bill of 1939, which attempted to aid the growing number of German child refugees* (a large percentage of whom were Jewish) by providing a special exemption to immigration quotas, thereby easing their entry into the United States. Introduced in a political climate unfavorable to the reduction of such quotas (two other bills introduced by Jewish congressmen that would have reduced immigration restrictions, one by Representative Samuel Dickstein and the other by Representative Emanuel Cellar, had already failed in 1938), the Wagner–Rogers bill was withdrawn by its sponsors after a bitter political debate. ER was closely associated with the bill, but her attempts to convince her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt,* to declare administration support for it failed. Still, FDR was not personally opposed to the legislation and suggested to ER in her role as liaison between the White House and those seeking the legislation the strategy of having a Catholic Democrat and a Republican jointly introduce the bill in Congress. In view of FDR’s position, ER felt she could offer only a behind-the-scenes endorsement of the measure at a time when it would have needed strong backing from the president to survive the determined attacks of its enemies.

The legislation was proposed by an advocacy group in New York called the Non-Sectarian Committee for German Refugee Children. On 9 February 1939 Senator Robert Wagner of New York, a Catholic Democrat, and Representative Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts, a Prot-

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