By most historical accounts, beginning in 1929, more than 2 million people were rounded up in government raids and sent to Mexico under a government run program known as Mexican Repatriation. The program lasted about 10 years.
Although Mexican American historians disagree on the exact number, by some estimates, over 1 million of those repatriated to Mexico were actually American born citizens. Repatriation was especially prevalent during the early 1930’s, at the peak of the depression era.
Prior to that era, especially during the early part of the 1920’s, brown skinned people, whether born here or not, were seen as a source of cheap labor by American employers. American companies were happy to hire our ancestors to harvest their crops and work in their factories.
But when the bottom fell out of the American economy and the great depression hit in 1929, these same people who had been welcomed with open arms prior to 1929, were suddenly seen as stealing American jobs.
Even today in 2015, that is a familiar charge leveled against immigrants from south of the US border. Oftentimes, they are accused of stealing American jobs too.
During repatriation, the goal was to rid the country of Mexicans, and anybody who resembled what they referred to back then as “foreigners” and “aliens”.
Here’s an excerpt from a report in the Los Angeles Times from around 1932 about the raids:
“Launching of the first big drive to rid Los Angeles County of undesirable aliens illegally living here, thirteen men have been taken into custody by Sheriff Traeger’s men and agents of the federal government. nightly raids on suspected quarters are to be continued until Traeger and the Federal government are satisfied all parts of the county offering a haven for unwanted foreigners have been uncovered.”
The report goes on to list all the names, and of course all of them were Spanish names. The report says that out of the 13, only 1 had a criminal record.
Again, the charge that all immigrants are criminals is something we hear quite often today from anti-immigrant groups.
So why were more than 1 million US citizens, Mexican Americans, sent to Mexico along with those who were in the country without documentation?
Looking back at this period of Mexican American history provides a good lesson in racial profiling. Many of the people were repatriated simply because they looked Mexican, or because they fit a certain profile, a particular caricature in the minds of white government officials or the public in general. Or maybe because they were unable to speak English or were just too compliant to challenge authority.
While there are varying accounts of what took place back then, the following excerpt from an author on the topic, Craig Steven Frame, describes it fairly accurate.
“As a result of concerted efforts by federal, local, and state governments to remove them from jobs desired for whites, Mexican Americans found themselves targeted for deportation, prohibited from employment, and labeled as unemployed indigents that burdened tax-paying citizens.”
Again, a familiar refrain heard today from anti-immigrant types which want to blame America’s problems on “illegal aliens”.
In many ways, these are the types of attitudes being exhibited today by some elected officials, mostly right wing Republicans and Tea Party types. Politicians like Ted Cruz and Charles Perry are fond of creating legislation that unfairly targets immigrants and by extension Hispanics; those of us born in this country.
The repeal of the Voting Rights Act, which Greg Abbott championed and the Texas Voter ID law are just 2 examples. Those laws impact Hispanics born in this country, and were created under the disguise of wanting to protect the integrity of our voting system from fraud. They didn’t say it, but they wanted people to think that the voting process was in danger of being hijacked by all the “illegals” flooding into this country.
They are fond of placing blame on “illegal aliens”, who they see as draining the government of tax dollars. They cover up their real intentions using language like “national and border security”.
That is why proposed laws like the “sanctuary cities” bill being championed by Lubbock State Senator Charles Perry is so dangerous. Because it will have consequences that will harm people who have immigrated to this country legally or perhaps many of us who were born here. If passed, the law will allow local police to act as immigration enforcement agents and make judgement calls that they are not trained to make.
It will increase the practice of racial profiling.
It will further exacerbate an atmosphere of suspicion between police and the Hispanic community. It will discourage Hispanics from coming forward with information about crimes because of fear of interrogation or deportation. It will burden local taxpayers more, and it will burden local police departments as they add immigration enforcement to their duties.
With a governor that we feel is hostile to immigrants as evidenced by the kind of legislation he champions, there is no doubt Gregg Abbott would sign this anti-Hispanic bill.
Most people have heard that oftentimes history repeats itself. Maybe it doesn’t repeat itself exactly in the same way. But oftentimes, a variation of political and social history occurs again because the folks in charge harbor the same attitudes and the same political ideologies that their ancestors did.
And our concern is that this state, will once again become a state where Hispanics and people who happen to look Hispanic will be asked to prove that we belong here.
Which is ridiculous, considering that Mexican American history clearly informs us, that we were here first.

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