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The Shame of Operation Wetback

by Geraldo Rivera | Nov 11, 2015
@RealDonaldTrump last night invoked a melancholy chapter in American history, heaping praise on a draconian 1954 federal initiative to forcibly deport tens of thousands of undocumented Mexican immigrants. To prevent repeat violators, the immigrant’s heads were often shaven so they would stand out to the Border Patrol. Many immigrants complained of beatings and abuse. To prevent their attempts to return, thousands of them, many hailing from border towns close to the United States, were sent by ship, bus and train to areas deep inside Mexico and far from their homes. As with Mr. Trump’s current plan, many Mexican-born U.S.-citizens were swept up with the truly undocumented. Citizen children were often forced out along with their parents. Stranded far from familiar territory, many struggled to find their way. In a single month, July 1955, 88 deported workers died in the scorching heat of the Sonora desert. The Eisenhower Administration had broad support for these harsh measures in this era before the Civil Rights movement. Most of these workers, called “Braceros” had been invited to work the farms, fields and factories of the South-West during World War II when our young men were abroad and labor was short. When our GI’s came home, the Braceros had to go. Even our secular saint, the United Farm Worker Union founder Cesar Chavez backed the plan to keep these Braceros from complicating his efforts to unionize the farms of California’s Central Valley. But history has come to regard “Operation Wetback” as a shocking reminder of our federal government run amok. I compare it to the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, where the U.S. government pretended to treat rural African-American men in Alabama between 1932 and 1972, only to let them suffer and die for research and some presumed social good. @JebBush and @JohnKasich are right. The fabric of our society will be torn asunder by the forced deportation of 11 million of our friends and neighbors. And for any candidate to suggest that it will be a good thing to not only throw these otherwise law-abiding and hard-working people, millions of whom have been here for a decade and more, but also to throw out their citizen-born children, is reminiscent of “Operation Wetback.” It would be an intolerable return to the bad, old days.
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