The current election news is being dominated by the proposed plan by Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, who is calling for the deportation of between 11 to 12 million “illegal aliens” within the United States. This policy is mainly targeted toward Hispanic individuals within the United States, overwhelmingly Mexicans, combined with a call for increased border security on the US-Mexican border, specifically a massive “wall” along the border.
Unsurprisingly this idea is not new and was actually attempted during the 1930s as a method of combating the impact of the Great Depression on several southwestern United States state economies, specifically Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. The process, now known as Mexican Repatriation, was undertaken as an organic process coordinated between local, state, and federal officials. As deportation was solely the province of the United States federal government, a new term, “repatriation” was coined to allow states and counties to undertake these quasi-deportations. The effort was done using a combination of scare tactics, mass roundups, and paid little regard for due process or legal requirements of existing immigration law. Furthermore officials in these states worked on a simple principle, deport anyone who looked Mexican regardless of their legal status.
It is unknown how many individuals were deported, local and state governments get deliberately vague records, but the number ranges between 800,000 to 2,000,000. A large number of those deported were legally within the United States, either as citizens or with permits to be within the country, but in the face of a massive economic disaster local officials simply pushed out a population easily targeted based on racial profiling. The human and emotional cost was staggering, with families divided, property seized, and individuals being tricked into waiving their legal rights on vague promises they could “re-enter when conditions were better.”
But bad ideas never crop up only once, during World War II the United States desperately needed additional cheap labor to fuel its war industry and struck a labor-sharing agreement with the Mexican government. The two nations would work together, Mexico would provide laborers to the United States through a legal temporary residency program and also work to keep illegal immigration to a minimum. Mexico agreed to this plan because of its own need for cheap labor to help develop its domestic economy. However the higher wartime wages, and post-war prosperity, combined with United States agricultural companies ignoring the labor-contracting system to avoid government administration and oversight, led to another huge surge of illegal immigration.
So in 1954 the United States undertook “Operation Wetback” – yes that was its real official government name – with the aim of deporting huge numbers of illegal Mexican workers back across the border. This coordinated federal and local action resulted in around 1,000,000 Mexican workers being shipped back to Mexico, this time deeper into Mexican territory with the goal of making it both harder for their return and putting Mexicans into portions of Mexico in need of additional labor.
The challenge is, each time such mass deportations occur, an interesting thing happens, United States agricultural companies begin to complain that they have no cheap labor force to harvest their products. United States workers won’t take the jobs at the prices being offered and the agricultural companies have a driving need to keep their costs as low as possible. Then, like magic, suddenly the border restrictions get looser and the United States federal government, along with state and local governments, suddenly lose their interest in “protecting American jobs.”
Till the next economic crunch comes along of course.