“Under my administration, anyone who illegally crosses the border will be detained until they are removed out of our country and back to the country from which they came. And they’ll be brought great distances. We’re not dropping them right across. They learned that. President Eisenhower. They’d drop them across, right across, and they’d come back. And across. Then when they flew them to a long distance, all of a sudden that was the end. We will take them great distances. But we will take them to the country where they came from, O.K.?
Donald Trump (Campaign Speech)
The quote above was from a campaign speech given by President Trump here in Arizona, where I live. I think because the speech was given here, I had a heightened interest in what he said. One thing, in particular, stood out in this quote. It was a reference to President Eisenhower. I wanted to know what the Eisenhower reference was about.
The reference was to “Operation Wetback,” which was conducted in 1955. Operation Wetback was “the biggest mass deportation of undocumented workers in United States history. As many as 1.3 million people may have been swept up in the Eisenhower-era campaign with a racist name, which was designed to root out undocumented Mexicans from American society.”
Operation Wetback used “military-style tactics” to deport both illegal immigrants and American citizens. Millions of Mexicans had entered the country legally through the previous cooperative efforts between the US and Mexico. The Mexican government, however, was facing a labor shortage and helped the US to illegally deport Mexican nationals who had earned their citizenship, along with those who had illegally immigrated to the US.
As I read more about Operation Wetback, I saw that it used negative “racial stereotypes” in the same way the Trump administration does today and for the same reason—" to justify their sometimes brutal treatment of immigrants.” In Operation Wetback, “harsh portrayals of Mexican immigrants as dirty, disease-bearing and irresponsible were the norm.”
When the operation commenced, tens of thousands of people were shoved onto buses, boats, and planes and often “dumped” into unfamiliar parts of Mexico, “thrown into a city where they didn’t know anyone.” In the state of Texas, “25 percent of all of the immigrants deported were crammed onto boats later compared to slave ships, while others died of sunstroke, disease and other causes while in custody.”
As deplorable as Operation Wetback sounds, it was not the first time the US had conducted mass deportation of Mexican immigrants. This practice goes back to the Great Depression. “According to historian Francisco Balderrama, the U.S. deported over 1 million Mexican nationals, 60 percent of whom were U.S. citizens of Mexican descent, during the 1930s... the program was referred to as “repatriation” to give it the sense of being voluntary. In reality, though, it was anything but.”
The horrible irony of Operation Wetback and other similar practices is that in 1942, the US invited Mexicans to work in its fields. It was called “Operation Bracero.” The contrast of how Mexicans were treated in Operations Bracero and Wetback is just a repeat of this country’s pattern of exploiting immigrant labor for profit while at the same time seeking to deny them the basic rights that you would expect in “the land of free and the home of the brave.” Here’s an outline from History.com of the history of Operation Bracero and timeline that led up to Operation Wetback:
The historical account of Operation Bracero is fascinating to me. Despite all the historical racist rhetoric about Mexicans, the truth was that US farmers benefitted from illegal immigrant labor and encouraged it, despite the legal vehicle set up in Operation Bracero to provide immigrant labor.
As a non-Latino, all my life, I have been led to believe “wetback” to be a racist and disparaging term to describe Mexicans illegally crossing the border. The truth is that these “illegals” were encouraged to cross by South Texas farmers. These farmers even went as far as “hiring armed guards to fend off Border Patrol officers” to keep their illegal immigrant workers. It was only when there became “too many” illegal immigrants that there became a “need” to round them up and deport them.
I went into great detail to describe Operation Wetback so that you can understand the historical backdrop behind President Trump’s words. For the president to say that he would repeat a program like this and even do it better, without mentioning the horrible racist undertones that accompanied it, the fact that US citizens were also deported or that people died in the harsh military-style treatment tactics is unconscionable.
Operation Wetback was conducted in 1955, nine years before I was born. But the many in the Arizona audience the president was addressing were in the same age range as the president and likely had a pretty good idea of what Operation Wetback was. For him to say that he would do it again only better, without any caveats, is inexcusable.
Some of you reading this might think the president’s words were just grandstanding at a rally to get votes. However, in April of 2019 the president “ousted Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and top immigration enforcement official Ronald Vitiello because they challenged a secret White House plan to arrest thousands of parents and children in a blitz operation against migrants in 10 major U.S. cities.” The purpose of the plan was to “execute dramatic, highly visible mass arrests that they argued would help deter the soaring influx of families.” More on the plan:
On June 17th, 2019, the president tweeted that that U.S. immigration agents are planning to make mass arrests starting “next week.” The president said, “Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States…They will be removed as fast as they come in.”
On the surface, the president’s comments seem rational. Why wouldn’t the US go after tens of thousands or as the president state, “millions of illegal aliens?” It’s not the desire to secure the nation’s borders, or the desire to preserve American jobs that I have a problem with. I have a problem with the vilifying and denigration of immigrants. I also have a problem with the racist undertones and hypocrisy that have been used in the discussion of immigrants, Latin American immigrants in particular.
In a very controversial speech before his election, the president said of illegal or undocumented immigrants, “These are not their best and their finest. These are not you coming across,” he said, gesturing to the audience. “These are people ― and some are very fine, I’m sure ― but they’re sending their killers, their rapists, their murderers, their drug lords. This is what we’re getting.” At another rally, he said, “We will begin moving them out, Day 1,” adding, “My first hour in office, those people are gone.”
What’s astounding about this is that before he was elected, the president used undocumented workers at the Trump National Golf Club Westchester, NJ. He also employed them at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida. Here is one example:
During more than five years as a housekeeper at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., Victoria Morales has made Donald J. Trump’s bed, cleaned his toilet and dusted his crystal golf trophies. When he visited as president, she was directed to wear a pin in the shape of the American flag adorned with a Secret Service logo.
Because of the “outstanding” support she has provided during Mr. Trump’s visits, Ms. Morales in July was given a certificate from the White House Communications Agency inscribed with her name.
Quite an achievement for an undocumented immigrant housekeeper.
Ms. Morales’s journey from cultivating corn in rural Guatemala to fluffing pillows at an exclusive golf resort took her from the southwest border, where she said she crossed illegally in 1999, to the horse country of New Jersey, where she was hired at the Trump property in 2013 with documents she said were phony.
She said she was not the only worker at the club who was in the country illegally.
It interesting to note that Ms. Morales is from Guatemala. She is from the same Central American region from which immigrants are “pouring” across the border according to the president. The UN Refugee Agency labels the condition in Guatemala an emergency and part of the Central America Refugee Crisis:
Central America Refugee Crisis: Families and unaccompanied children are fleeing horrific gang violence. Gang warfare and violence have transformed parts of Central America into some of the most dangerous places on earth. In recent years, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala (known as the Northern Triangle) have experienced a dramatic escalation in organized crime by gangs, called maras. Thousands of parents have fled with their families and, in many cases, children have made the perilous journey alone. These unaccompanied children are some of the world’s most vulnerable refugees – they have witnessed horrific violence and faced extreme risk. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is on the ground responding to this mounting crisis, but the needs are growing.
When the president speaks of these people, he doesn’t speak of them as p-e-o-p-l-e caught up in a humanitarian crisis. He usually refers to them as illegal immigrants, illegal aliens, or worse. If we as American people are persuaded into making them anything other than people, then we can vilify them, treat them harshly, round them up, drop them back in their crisis region, separate them from their children, etc.
It is particularly disturbing that if one of these people were fortunate enough to be able to work for the president, as Ms. Morales was, they could become a model employee but if they didn’t, they could be treated as serious criminals devoid of any compassion related to the crisis from which they were escaping.
In January 2019, the Washington Post published this story:
OSSINING, N.Y — They had spent years on the staff of Donald Trump’s golf club, winning employee-of-the-month awards and receiving glowing letters of recommendation.
Some were trusted enough to hold the keys to Eric Trump’s weekend home. They were experienced enough to know that, when Donald Trump ordered chicken wings, they were to serve him two orders on one plate.
But on Jan. 18, about a dozen employees at Trump National Golf Club in Westchester County, N.Y., were summoned, one by one, to talk with a human resources executive from Trump headquarters.
During the meetings, they were fired because they are undocumented immigrants, according to interviews with the workers and their attorney. The fired workers are from Latin America.
The sudden firings — which were previously unreported — follow last year’s revelations of undocumented labor at a Trump club in New Jersey, where employees were subsequently dismissed. The firings show Trump’s business was relying on undocumented workers even as the president demanded a border wall to keep out such immigrants.
The Washington Post also reported this in a separate article as it pertains to the president’s use of illegal immigrant labor:
President Trump’s company plans to institute E-Verify, a federal program that allows employers to check whether new hires are legally eligible to work in the United States, in every one of its golf clubs, hotels, and resorts, following a Washington Post report that its club in Westchester County, N.Y., employed undocumented immigrants for years.
“We are instituting E-Verify on all of our properties as soon as possible,” Eric Trump, one of the president’s sons and executive vice president of the Trump Organization, said Tuesday, acknowledging that the company currently uses the program only at some locations. “We’re starting with the golf properties, and we are going to be doing all of them.”
The move is the first acknowledgment by the president’s private business that it has failed to fully check the work status of all its employees, despite Trump’s claims during the 2016 campaign that he used E-Verify across his properties. At the time, he called for the program to be mandatory for all employers.
… The purge followed what Eric Trump told The Post was “a broad effort to identify any employee who has given false and fraudulent documents to unlawfully gain employment.”
The notion that the president or his son did not know for years that they had so many illegal or undocumented workers is preposterous. And the timing of the firings, on the heels of a Washington Post report, only casts more doubt on the idea that the president was serious about discovering the undocumented workers in his businesses.
The president held a re-election launch rally in Orlando, FL on June 18, 2019. The day before the rally, several undocumented workers, fired from the president’s golf clubs in New York and New Jersey, assembled for a press conference in Orlando. They spoke out about the unfair treatment that they received. In prior interviews, six former employees stated that “they felt systematically cheated because they were undocumented. Some told The Washington Post about being denied promotions, vacation days and health insurance, which were offered to legal employees. The same pattern of unpaid labor was also described by a former manager.”
Anibal Romero is an attorney who represents these fired workers. He said, "These employees who work for Donald Trump represent hundreds of people who have worked for Donald Trump as undocumented immigrants, and it shows how the administration can easily vilify and demonize immigrants and yet has no problem hiring them."
The president’s attitudes towards the use of immigrant labor are not new. These sentiments are as old as slavery, or as old as the use of Chinese labor to build the nation’s railroads and work in mines and as old as the Bracero program. The wealth-building formula used to “Make America Great” has historically featured cheap labor from immigrant workers. We see it in the case of the “wetbacks” employed by South Texas farmers and in the case of the president’s undocumented workers who were denied the same pay and benefits as the documented workers.
This is the ugly side of “Making America Great Again.” We are repeating the historical practice of exploitation without representation, capitalizing on the plight of the immigrant while simultaneously blocking their opportunities for citizenship and wealth; the same opportunities that America’s immigrant forefathers were afforded. We cannot continue the nation’s practice of vilifying the people that we use to build our nation’s wealth.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish