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Operation Wetback, the 1950s Immigration Policy Donald Trump Loves, Explained

Dara Lind - Vox
go to original
November 11, 2015





The inspiration for Donald Trump's immigration policy, as Donald Trump himself has proudly told plenty of interviewers (and the moderators of last night's Fox Business presidential debate), is "Operation Wetback."

Trump didn't use the term in last night's debate. But that's what he was referring to:



Trump's love for Operation Wetback makes sense — not just because the name, like a lot of other things Trump says, offends immigrants and Latinos in the year 2015. Operation Wetback, which took place during the Eisenhower administration, was the closest to mass deportation of unauthorized immigrants the US has ever actually come. Over the summer of 1954 and into 1955, hundreds of immigration agents swept through the southwestern United States, rounding up immigrants who were in the US without legal authorization and packing them into trucks, trains, planes, and ships to be sent back to Mexico. It was macho and militarized. It was very Trump-y.

Needless to say, Trump (like US officials in the mid-'50s) exaggerated the impact of Operation Wetback. And Trump might find the real story of the operation somewhat surprising: Behind the hyped, militarized Operation Wetback of 1954 were years of quieter (and arguably more effective) enforcement, as the US collaborated with the Mexican government to encourage the legal hiring of immigrant workers as a complement to a crackdown on illegal hiring. In fact, the greatest success of Operation Wetback is that it encouraged immigrants who'd been working in the US illegally to become legal — the sort of thing we might call "amnesty" today.

One crucial difference between today's immigration situation and the one six decades ago, is that most of the people Trump and other hard-liners want to deport are full-time residents of the United States. Their lives are here. That wasn't true of the immigrants who got deported to Mexico during Operation Wetback.

Read the rest at Vox

Related: It Came Up In The Debate: Here Are 3 Things to Know About 'Operation Wetback' (NPR)

Related: Trump's Morally Retarded Plan to "Make America Great Again" Through Operation Wetback and the Trump Wall (Reason)

Related: Republican Rivals Rip Trump’s Immigration Plan (Saudi Gazette)

Photo: Ira Gay Sealy/Denver Post/Getty

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