On a day like today: U.S. deports American citizens
Much debate has troubled the U.S. electorate over the presence of immigrants in the country, especially those of Mexican or other Latin American origin. The number of those who have entered the United States illegally, or who entered legally with visas and are now living in the country and out of status, has been estimated variously. According to the Pew Research Center, the number of undocumented aliens in the U.S. reached 11.2 million as of 2011. This was a decline from the number recorded for 2007, which reached 12 million. While some have questioned the feasibility of deporting so many millions of people, others advocate placing more effective barriers at the southern border of the United States. Some even advocate the militarization of that border.
Debate has divided members of both the Republican and Democrat parties, and has also divided members of Congress representing distinct regions of the country. The failure of Congress, under both Republican and Democrat administrations, to bring about meaningful immigration reform has only increased the level of frustration in local governments that have to deal with the burden of increased demand for services such as medical care, education, and law enforcement.
Some advocates for reform have accused their opponents of nativist or even racist sentiments. Advocates for significantly decreasing the numbers of immigrants, legal and illegal, accuse their opponents of nationalist designs that are at odds with the interests of the United States as a whole.
This is not the first time that immigration has been a hot topic in American politics, and certainly not the last. Over its history, the people of the United States have shown sentiments ranging from ambivalence, celebration, and even hostility towards immigrants and immigration. It was immigration law, for example, that stymied the entry of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany and condemned them to their murder during the Holocaust. And it was immigration law that encouraged the entry of Europeans during the late 1800s when laborers were needed, even while eventually it was Asians who were nearly precluded.
In the 1930s, as the world was facing the Great Depression, there emerged the perceived need in the United States to actually return Mexicans to their country of origin. For example, in February 1930, some 5000 Mexican nationals and U.S. citizens of Mexican parentage were gathered at the rail station in San Antonio, Texas, to be sent to Mexico. Later, in August, a special train was provided to take another 2000 to central Mexico. During the Depression, the Federal Bureau of Immigration (after 1933, the Immigration and Naturalization Service) and local law enforcement rounded up Mexican immigrants and naturalized American citizens and shipped them to Mexico in an effort to reduce welfare rolls. In all, some 400,000 Mexicans and Mexican-Americans (some of them American citizens by birth) were sent across the border from Arizona, California, and Texas. In the case of Texas, its Mexican-born population was reduced by a third. Los Angeles, California, lost a third of its Mexican population. In Los Angeles, the only Mexican American student at Occidental College serenaded departing Mexicans with a painful farewell song called "Las Golondrinas," – The Swallows.
However, even before the 1929 stock market crash, there was already a move afoot to reduce the number of Mexicans living in the United States. Labor unions, such as the American Federation of Labor, were joined by local governments to reduce the flow of immigrants. Opposition came from local chambers of commerce, economic development associations, and state farm bureaus that saw the need for labor. However, rigid enforcement of existing laws slowed legal entry. In 1928, United States consulates in Mexico began to apply with unprecedented rigor the literacy test legislated in 1917.
During the administration of Republican President Herbert Hoover, the Bureau of Immigration launched raids to identify aliens for deportation. Secretary of Labor William N. Doak believed that removal of illegal aliens would reduce welfare expenditures and also open up the job market for native-born Americans. During that period, 82,400 Mexicans and Americans were involuntarily deported by the federal government. Federal efforts were accompanied by city and county pressure to repatriate destitute Mexican American families. In January 1931, the Los Angeles County welfare director asked federal immigration officials to supervise the deportation of Mexicans. Bringing in federal agents, he said, would "have a tendency to scare many thousands of alien deportables out of this district, which is the intended result." In a February 1931 raid, police surrounded a downtown Los Angeles park popular with Mexicans and Mexican Americans and held some 400 adults and children for over an hour. Threatened by loss of employment, retaliation, deportation, and loss of relief payments led hundreds of thousands of others to leave.
In a letter distributed in San Diego in August 1932, the Mexican consulate invited Mexicans and Mexican Americans to accede to an offer for repatriation:
Document: The Government of Mexico, with the cooperation and aid of the Welfare Committee of this County, will effect the repatriation of all Mexicans who currently reside in this County and who might wish to return to their country.... Those persons who are repatriated will be able to choose among the States of Sonora, Sinaloa, Nayarit, Jalisco, Michoacán, and Guanajuato as the place of their final destination, with the understanding that the Government of Mexico will provide them with lands for agricultural cultivation...and will aid them in the best manner possible so that they might settle in the country.
Those persons who take part in this movement of repatriation may count on free transportation from San Diego to the place where they are going to settle, and they will be permitted to bring with them their furniture, household utensils, agricultural implements, and whatever other objects for personal use they might possess.
Since the organization and execution of a movement of repatriation of this nature implies great expenditures, this Consulate encourages you...to take advantage of this special opportunity being offered to you for returning to Mexico at no cost whatever and so that...you might dedicate all your energies to your personal improvement, that of your family, and that of our country.
If you wish to take advantage of this opportunity, please return this letter...with the understanding that, barring notice to the contrary from this Consulate, you should present yourself with your family and your luggage on the municipal dock of this port on the 23rd of this month before noon.
Source: Mexico City, Archivo de la Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, IV-360-38.
Further info: Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not of Spero News.
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