The Executive Order of White Supremacy or What You Don’t Know Can Kill You: Operation Wetback, the Bracero Program and the Mexican Repatriation Act, Why History Matters  

The Executive Order of White Supremacy or What You Don’t Know Can Kill You: Operation Wetback, the Bracero Program and the Mexican Repatriation Act, Why History Matters

By Matt Sedillo

The Southwest Political Report

10/30/2018

 

“I don’t think they have American citizenship, and if you speak to some very, very good lawyers — some would disagree. But many of them agree with me — you’re going to find they do not have American citizenship. We have to start a process where we take back our country. Our country is going to hell. We have to start a process, Bill, where we take back our country,” – Donald Trump, September 15th 2015, the O’Riley Factor

“We’re going to keep the families together, but they have to go”- Donald Trump, October 11th  2015 Meet the Press

“Let me just tell you that Dwight Eisenhower, good president, great president, people liked him. I like Ike, right? The expression. I like Ike. 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. Didn’t like it. Moved them way south. They never came back. Dwight Eisenhower. You don’t get nicer, you don’t get friendlier.” – Donald Trump citing Operation Wetback as legal precedent in November 10th 2015 The Republican Primary debate

“I’m a nationalist. Nationalist. Nothing wrong. Use that word. Use that word.”- Donald Trump October 22nd 2018

Just over a week after describing himself as a “nationalist” through a White supremacist executive order Donald Trump has redeclared his intent to end birthright citizenship for the first-generation children of immigrants.

During the Republican primary Trump often waffled between threats to take up the cause of Congressman Steve King in repealing the 14th amendment and outright bizarre claims that the 14th amendment did not legally state birthright citizenship. Something that even Bill O’riley found shocking. In Trump’s arguments for mass deportation during this period, he also stated that he would “keep families together.” Trump often cited the legal precedent of Operation Wetback.

Operation Wetback was a 1954 campaign was overseen by then newly appointed Immigration and Naturalization Services chief General Joseph Swing. Swing had been a veteran of the so-called Mexican expedition, also sometimes referred to as the “punitive expedition”, which had been led by John Pershing, which tore through the Mexican countryside killing people in small pueblos in a manhunt for Pancho Villa. Anti-Mexican hatred and the politics of “Mexico will pay” are not new.

Trump’s characterization of the program of sweeps and deportations from the US that “moved” people “way south” is essentially correct. Operation Wetback was a brutal campaign that rounded up and displaced over a million people indiscriminately throughout Mexico. Though Operation Wetback was a program that is generally historicized as a campaign that took place in 1954 the tactics that characterized it were implemented during the entire tenure of Joseph Swing. Witnesses and survivors of the day likened this human traffic to the transport of cattle. In one horrific incident in July of 1955, 88 people died of sunstroke.

Operation Wetback was not a simply horrific episode of ethnic cleansing. It was a means to control a population of people the US government had no intention of completely purging.

Operation Wetback, 1954, and the tenure of Joseph Swing 1954-1962, overlap with the Bracero Program, 1942-1964, which brought in between four and five million workers from Mexico into the US to work as manual laborers hence the title Bracero program. Braceros suffered low wages, unsafe work practices, informal segregation and the constant threat of deportation. This work was largely agricultural which in turn provided the base for a wave of rapid development of industry in Manifest Destiny land the so-called West. Between 1940-1970 population booms were seen throughout the fast-growing cities through cities like Los Angeles, Dallas, Pheonix and none of that happens without a cheap agricultural/extractive labor force. The modern Southwest was built on cheap precarious labor and runs on it still. The overlapping of the two programs clearly shows that it was not about immigration but rather population control through a state of constant terror.

However, despite Trump’s citation of Operation Wetback his actions would indicate what he really has in mind is its predecessor, the Mexican Repatriation Act. During the depression between 1929 and 1936 the Hoover and later Roosevelt administration carried out lthe Mexican Repatriation Act, during in which anywhere between 500,000 to 2 million Mexican and Mexican Americans were forced or intimidated out of the country. My own family was swept up in this. My grandfather and his brothers were born in Colorado. I recall once asking him “everyone left in the thirties why?” he responded in his easy-going manner calmly explaining “the government said everyone had to go.” This is the only conversation we ever had on the matter. It is estimated that some sixty percent of those forced from the country were “birthright citizenships.”

This is what is meant by “keeping families together.” Though he has shown that not to be his intent. This is what is meant by challenging birthright citizenship. This is what is meant by “taking our country back.” It is a call to Whiten America.

“You know I am proud to have that German blood. There’s no question about it.” – Donald Trump

This was never about immigration. Donald Trump’s father Fred Trump was the son of an immigrant. Four out of five of Donald Trump’s children are the children of immigrants. Donald Trump’s first wife was an immigrant. Donald Trump’s current wife is an immigrant. Her parents recently came to the US through chain migration. Donald Trump is the son of an immigrant. Donald Trump declared himself a nationalist. Donald Trump has stated he believes in Eugenics. Donald Trump is a eugenicist calling for ethnic cleansing.

There is no reason to believe that any of these horrible episodes cannot be repeated. Donald Trump initially made Anti Mexican sentiment the centerpiece to his Presidential campaign and has made Anti Central American sentiment central to his Presidency. There is no arc of history that will prevent him from attempting an ethnic cleanse to prevent the Browning of America. There is also nothing written in the stars that can’t be fought out in the street. What don’t know can kill you. We must invest in deepening our knowledge of the past in order to fight for the future.

 

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