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raceAhead: Donald Trump’s Deportation Plans Are Nothing New

September 1, 2016, 4:22 PM UTC

After a relatively mellow joint appearance with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Donald Trump returned to his tough talk on immigration last night. In a fiery speech in Arizona, he described the border wall he hopes to build in glowing real estate terms: “On day one, we will begin working on an impenetrable, physical, tall, power, beautiful southern border wall.”

He also recommitted to deporting millions of undocumented Mexican people, a move that further delighted his base and forced many of his few remaining high-profile Hispanic surrogates to publicly throw in the towel.

But while Donald Trump’s plans stand out for their toughness, he is not the first presidential nominee—or president—to call for such programs. Such deportation schemes have a long and tragic history, and Trump’s plan parallels a previous one executed by the Eisenhower administration called Operation Wetback. Yes, they called it that publicly.

It is clear that candidate Trump knows about that program. Although he has been circumspect enough not to refer to it by name, he has praised it many times.

“Let me just tell you that Dwight Eisenhower — a good president, great president, people liked him…” he said during a Republican debate in November, 2015. “He moved a million and a half illegal immigrants out of this country, moved them just beyond the border. They came back. Moved them again, beyond the border: They came back. Then moved them way south. They never came back.”

Trump’s rhetoric adds another chapter to a complex and little-remembered history that has been playing out in the lives of Mexican immigrants and Americans since the 1920s, when small family farms began to be replaced by larger, investor-backed operations, mostly in the Southwest.

These newfangled agricultural enterprises required a large and mobile labor base to remain profitable. Migrants from Mexico became a perfect solution — cheap, plentiful, and, because they weren’t citizens, ineligible to lobby for better working conditions.

Early anti-migrant programs appeared a few years later, a quarter century before the Eisenhower administration launched its unfortunately named version. NPR’s Code Switch covered an earlier scheme that played out during The Great Depression in the 1930s. Some two million people, including U.S. citizens, were rounded up in terrifying public raids and shipped to Mexico, for fear that they were taking scarce American jobs. In 2012, the State of California publicly apologized for its role in the event.

When it arrived two decades later, Operation Wetback was broader in ambition. The New Republic’s Jeet Heer explains, in a must read history, the moment it became necessary:

“In 1942, the Mexican and American governments tried to bring order to this exploitive system by agreeing to the Bracero Program (formally known as the Migrant Labor Agreement), which permitted vetted contract laborers (mainly screened for health problems) to be legal guest workers for a fixed term, usually a few months at a time. Braceros were promised fair treatment in wages and boarding, but enforcement was lax and employer abuse was widespread.”

Operation Wetback was initially supported by many advocacy groups that had become aware of the terrible conditions experienced by workers, as well as by many Mexican Americans, who were concerned by the dampening effect the braceros had on their own wages. But agricultural employers, who routinely failed to comply with the new labor standards, were also eager to see the immigrants disappear. And as anti-Communist fervor took over the U.S in the 1950s, the porous border became a paranoid obsession. Every Mexican became a Communist in disguise.

The raids disrupted entire communities, destroyed families and legitimate businesses, and stoked deadly anti-Mexican sentiments. They were also horrific.

In the go-to book on the operation, Impossible Subjects, historian Mae Ngai describes deportation ships that were later compared in Congressional reports to “eighteenth century slave ship[s]” and “penal hell ship[s].”

Others died as they were dumped across the border. “Some 88 braceros died of sun stroke as a result of a round-up that had taken place in 112-degree heat,” she wrote. “At the other end of the border, in Nuevo Laredo, a Mexican labor leader reported that ‘wetbacks’ were ‘brought [into Mexico] like cows’ on trucks and unloaded fifteen miles down the highway from the border, in the desert.”

So, yes, I suppose Trump is right in one regard. They never came back.

On Point

Former Mexican president Vicente Fox on Trump’s wall and Mexico’s futureThe always outspoken Fox became even more famous when he said on live television that he was “not going to pay for that @%#$ing wall.” In this Q & A with Pacific Standard, he digs deeper into policy; explains how a workable immigration plan is within reach; what’s missing from Nafta; Mexico’s low unemployment rate; and how his country has become the world’s 12th largest export market — “Because we are very chingones.” And now you know the Spanish word for “badass.”Pacific Standard

Brazil’s Senate removes President Rouseff from office
With more of a whimper than a bang, the Brazilian Senate voted 61-20 to convict Vilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president, of illegally using money from state banks to boost public spending. She has vowed to appeal the decision at Brazil’s Supreme Court. The years-long crisis coincides with the country’s worst recession in decades, and the decision ends 13 years of leftist party rule in Latin America’s largest economy.

Georgetown University announces details on reparations
Later today, Georgetown’s president John J. DeGioia will present a landmark plan to publicly atone for a very difficult past, involving the use and subsequent profit from the sale of 272 enslaved people nearly two hundred years ago. In addition to offering a special admissions process for descendants of the slaves, he will offer a formal apology, and announce the creation of an institute for the study of slavery and plans for a public memorial to the people whose forced labor benefited the school.
New York Times

Supreme Court declines to reinstate North Carolina’s restrictive voting law
Without citing a specific reason, the Supreme Court will not reinstate a restrictive voting law in North Carolina, one that a lower court found had been “enacted with almost surgical precision” to minimize the participation of African American voters. The law, which had been passed in 2013, rolled back early voting times, eliminated same day registration, and enacted stricter voter I.D. requirements. Experts consider it a major victory for the Obama administration.
Washington Post

‘White Lives Matter’ is declared a hate group
A white nationalist group called White Lives Matter, which calls itself an opponent of the Black Lives Matter movement — and believes that white Americans are victims of genocide — has been declared a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks extremist groups in the United States.
New York Times

The Woke Leader

Harvard Divinity School turns 200 by celebrating inclusion
The bicentennial celebration, which kicked off yesterday, is an attempt to tell a richer story of the ethnic and religious diversity that has become a key part of HDS’s mission in the 21st century. The celebration coincides with a new exhibit that highlights how many different groups and traditions have actually shaped the program. “Before that, white Christian men were the only people whose portraits hung on the walls of our School,” says lecturer Ann Braude, who created the exhibit.

Good (South Asian) girls marry doctors
It started as a simple conversation with her women friends, all of whom who were pursing their academic dreams, while being cautioned to be more obedient, and less rebellious. It hit a nerve. Author Piyali Bhattacharya began compiling diverse stories of generational divide and angst and turned them into Good Girls Marry Doctors, a book that debuts September 6th. Expect a companion website where women can submit their own essays and talk about how their lives are shaping up.
NBC News

A beautiful twist on Mexico's 'Day of The Dead'
In this short, animated and utterly beautiful student film, a little girl visits the the land of the dead, and discovers the true meaning of the Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos. Spoiler alert: It's all about amor.


I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me, too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you. 
—Frida Kahlo