Trump’s Muslim Ban Prepares the Way for Another “Operation Wetback”

By Victor Landa, NewsTaco (5 minute read)  

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will decide today whether Donald Trump’s temporary ban against travelers from seven Muslim countries is constitutional. Today’s ruling comes as a result of an injunction placed by a federal judge in Washington State against Trump’s ban. The states of Washington and Minnesota sued Trump in federal court saying, among many other things, that the president was overstepping his power – the same argument used successfully against president Obama’s executive orders on immigration.

This is one of those days when we need to pay close attention to what’s happening in the headlines because the consequences are deep. The 9th Circuit panel decision will have lasting implications for the Trump administration and for U.S. Latinos specifically. Because . . .

Photo courtesy of NHPR

. . . Trump’s Muslim travel ban clears the road for another “operation wetback.”

No, this isn’t fake news or a conspiracy theory, this is historically based fact.

In 1952 Congress sent an immigration bill to President Harry Truman, it was the last year of his administration. The bill, called the Immigration and Nationality Act, gave the president wide power over immigration. It’s the same law that Trump is citing in defense of his Muslim travel ban.

[pullquote]Anywhere from 1 to 4 million Mexicans and Mexican-American’s were rounded up, as in a police state, and deported – manty of them U.S. citizens and legal residents; many of them died in the process.[/pullquote]

Section 212(f) of the bill, states: “Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.”

That’s a wide strike zone, it’s also why President Truman vetoed the bill. But the legislation came at the height of the Red Scare, during the paranoid McCarthy era when people were persecuted for the mere hint of a link to communism. So Congress over-rode Truman’s veto and Section 212(f) became law along with the rest of the Act.

Photo courtesy of @pinchicagoo/Twitter

It was with that power that in 1954 President Dwight Eisenhower, in the second year of his administration, implemented Operation Wetback.

Slate provides the backdrop:

“In 1953, INS commissioner Argyle Mackey complained of “the human tide of ‘wetbacks’ ” as the ‘most serious enforcement problem of the Service.’ The first Mexican guest workers had come to the fields legally through the World War II braceros program, a series of laws and diplomatic agreements that allowed Mexicans to work on American farms. Mackey wrote, in the official INS house organ, that the reports of good work in the States to ‘the Mexicans left at home … turned the trickle into the flood’ and for ‘every agricultural laborer admitted legally, four aliens were apprehended.’ Willard Kelly, the assistant commissioner of the border patrol, called this ‘the greatest peacetime invasion ever complacently suffered by any country.’ These concerns led the INS to launch, in 1954, what was officially called the ‘Special Mobile Force Operation,’ or as it was actually referred to in the INS and in the American media, ‘Operation Wetback.’

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Anywhere from 1 to 4 million Mexicans and Mexican-American’s were rounded up, as in a police state, and deported – manty of them U.S. citizens and legal residents; many of them died in the process.

The 1952 law was amended by Lyndon Johnson in 1965 . . .

1970 photo courtesy of USGBC California

. . . at the height of the civil rights era – a very different country than the one that produced the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Johnson tweaked the law and in the process imposed the first-ever limits on immigration from Latin American countries.

The changes came in the era of the struggle for increased tolerance, as opposed to the reactionary, paranoid 1950’s.

But the version of the law on which Trump pins his Muslim ban is the wide-swath power of the 1952 McCarthy era legislation. The same law that gave Eisenhower the power to do operation wetback.

Screenshot courtesy of Fox News

That’s the same operation wetback that candidate Donald Trump invoked as a model for the deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants. He said so in November of 2015, during a GOP presidential debate in Milwaukee. Although he didn’t refer to it by name Trump was eluding to that specific mass deportation program. NPR threads the needle in a November 11, 2015 article:

[pullquote][tweet_dis]The legal framework that enabled Operation Wetback in  the 1950’s is the same framework that Trump is using to move his Muslim ban forward.[/tweet_dis][/pullquote]

“Trump said Eisenhower ‘moved immigrants just beyond the border; they came back. Moved them again beyond the border; they came back. Didn’t like it. Moved them way south; they never came back. Dwight Eisenhower. You don’t get nicer, you don’t get friendlier.’

“The program Trump referenced was named ‘Operation Wetback.’ The racial epithet was widely used at the time.”

[tweet_dis]There are echoes of Operation Wetback in present day immigration debates.[/tweet_dis] The 1954 operation lasted four months and ended when the government ran out of money and when the border was deemed “secure.” The same immigration end game that’s repeated today. The problem is that now, as it was then, a “secure border” is a subjective goal and a lot of damage can be done in the process.

Read more stories about Operation Wetback in NewsTaco. >> 

The legal framework that enabled Operation Wetback in the Trumpian-forlorned American “great” days of the 1950’s is the same framework that the president is leaning on to move his Muslim ban forward.

That’s why today’s ruling in the 9th Circuit is important.



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