News and views from the award-winning author of the Class H Trilogy: AMERICA LIBRE, HOUSE DIVIDED and PANCHO LAND

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Over one million Mexicans forcibly relocated under "rule of law"


More than one million people of Mexican origin were unlawfully removed to Mexico during the 1930s across the United States. Approximately 60% were U.S. citizens.

Many of those who demonize the undocumented and support harsh nativist legislation instead of immigration reform cloak their arguments under the guise of maintaining "the rule of law." They make this point despite law enforcement statistics that show crime has dropped significantly across the nation since the early 1990s, the period when the present flood of undocumented immigrants began. (In Los Angeles, a city with probably the highest concentration of undocumented immigrants, overall crime has dropped 64% during this same period.)

This weekend, a plaque will be unveiled in the City of Los Angeles acknowledging one of the most flagrant civil rights violations in U.S. history. This seldom-mentioned event was perpetrated across the nation by elected officials and law enforcement agencies at every level under a federal campaign led by President Herbert Hoover.

According to scholar Kevin R. Johnson:
Many Americans have not heard of the forced removal of approximately one million persons—U.S. citizens as well as noncitizens—of Mexican ancestry from the United States during the Great Depression. This is true despite the fact that the number of repatriates dwarfed by about tenfold the number of persons of Japanese ancestry who were interned by the United States government during World War II. Unfortunately, the lack of awareness of the repatriation is consistent with the general invisibility of Latina/o civil rights deprivations throughout much of U.S. history. 
Although “repatriation” is the term often used to refer to the campaign to remove hundreds of thousands of persons of Mexican ancestry from the United States in the 1930s, it is not entirely accurate.  Federal, state, and local governments worked together to involuntarily remove many U.S. citizens of Mexican ancestry, many of whom were born in the United States.  These citizens cannot be said to have been “repatriated” to their native land. Approximately 60 percent of the persons of Mexican ancestry removed to Mexico in the 1930s were U.S. citizens, many of them children who were effectively deported to Mexico when their immigrant parents were sent there.
The forced “repatriation” of an estimated one million persons of Mexican ancestry from the United States included the removal of hundreds of thousands of people from California, Michigan, Colorado, Texas, Illinois, Ohio, and New York during the Great Depression.  It is clear today that the conduct of federal, state, and local officials in the campaign violated the legal rights of the persons repatriated, as well as persons of Mexican ancestry stopped, interrogated, and detained but not removed from the country. The repatriation campaign also terrorized and traumatized the greater Mexican-American community.
To justify the "Repatriation," Los Angeles county officials claimed that returning Mexicans would save the city money by reducing the number of needy families using up federal welfare funds and free up jobs for “real” Americans. However, sources at the time documented that less than 10 percent of people on welfare across the country were Mexican or of Mexican descent.

The “Repatriation” included sweeps through barrios with indiscriminate mass arrests. Most people were unconstitutionally denied their legal rights of Due Process and Equal Protection under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment. (The U.S. Department of Justice recently stripped Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office of its immigration enforcement powers for conducting similar "sweeps".)

Is this what nativists mean by the "rule of law" in the United States?

Raul Ramos y Sanchez