“Operation Wetback” & interior enforcement

ChicagoVoluntaryReturns(Mexican men, women, and children at the Chicago INS office, Sept 1954. Source: Chicago Daily News)

There have been many stories published today about Donald Trump’s proposal to carry out mass deportations, a la “Operation Wetback,” the INS’s notorious mid-1950s campaign that resulted in the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Mexicans, and some Mexican Americans.

The stories have exposed Trump’s plan for what it is: an attempt to make headlines—and remain relevant—by pandering to extreme immigration restrictionists and xenophobes within the Republican party.

But the news coverage of “Operation Wetback” has consistently omitted an important aspect of the mid-century deportation drive: it wasn’t just a border campaign that targeted temporary migrants. And not all were adult men, either.

The INS also carried out an extensive, albeit smaller, interior campaign aimed at apprehending and deporting long-term residents, including some women and children. (This wasn’t the first time officials conducted such a drive. The US also uprooted many Mexican individuals and families during the repatriations and deportations of the late 1920s and 1930s.)

This excerpt from my own research on the Chicago-phase of “Operation Wetback” makes clear that removing established members of the community was easier said than done:

OWChicago

Sound familiar?

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