Shortly after taking the oath of office, President Donald Trump issued an executive order that expanded the definition of a criminal offense under immigration law. At first glance, this did not mean much to those living in the United States. On a closer look however, this meant that any individual who does not “look American,” speak proper English, or assimilate into the American way of life would be targeted for deportation. For most American history buffs, this was reminiscent of what happened in the 1930s.
It wouldn’t be the first time U.S. citizens have been targeted for deportation. From 1926 to 1936, over a million people were “repatriated” back into Mexico. Of that million, an estimated 60% were U.S. citizens. The Mexican Repatriation became a mass deportation movement in which Mexican Americans were rounded up and deported without due process. Even the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services site partially acknowledges this fact.
In short, individuals were either deported or encouraged to leave the country and back into their “homeland” without a chance to defend their rights in the United States. Thousands of individuals left behind their entire life’s work and were sent to a country that they had never been a part of or in some cases had not been to for over 20 years. Back then, the rhetoric behind the Mexican Repatriation was that immigrants were taking American jobs and nothing was being done about it.
The Mexican Repatriation was not the only example. In the 1950s, “Operation Wetback” was another high-profile deportation program of Mexicans. As one source says, “It is difficult to estimate the number of people forced to leave by the operation. The INS claimed as many as 1,300,000, though the number officially apprehended did not come anywhere near this total. The INS estimate rested on the claim that most undocumented immigrants, fearing apprehension by the government, had voluntarily repatriated themselves before and during the operation.”
In 2015, candidate Trump cited “Operation Wetback” in a 60 Minutes interview, where he said that his deportation plan would be “humane.”
Now, candidate Trump is President Trump and the same rhetoric looms over his immigration policies as we re-enter what once was considered two dark chapters of American history.
Since 2003, over 20,000 U.S. citizens have been detained and/or deported by mistake. Because law enforcement officials have broad discretionary power in who they think is a threat to society, thousands of individuals (including U.S. citizens) are often caught in the deportation trap.
This year, the Texas Legislature introduced Senate Bill 4, which allows for law enforcement officials in cities, counties and college campuses to keep a person in custody while the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency looks into their immigration status. The bill would also promote stop-and-frisk practices, which in turn leads to racial profiling and create more chaos in Mexican American communities. Despite testimony from police chiefs who claimed that the bill would make their relationship with the community more strenuous, the bill passed the Senate along party lines (20-11). Regardless of what party you identify with, the bill would make sure many Latinos in Texas are stereotyped into custody.
Earlier this week, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly signed guidelines to fulfill the President’s campaign promise to remove and deport undocumented immigrants. Although the guidelines are meant to target undocumented immigrants, thousands of American citizens will be caught in the crosshairs.
If history is any indicator as to what that means, Mexican Americans should fear being targeted by law enforcement officials and more importantly, risk being deported under public policy that runs contrary to our American values.
Mauricio García is a civil rights advocate and a law student at Texas Southern University. He holds a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, and received Bachelor of Arts in government, history, international relations and Latin American studies from the University of Texas at Austin. He tweets from @maurygarcia92.