Mass Deportation: Lessons from the Past

Date Put forth on May 10, 2008 by XicanoPwr
Category Posted in Deportation, Immigration, Nativism, Política Estados Unidos, Prejudices, Racism, Round-ups, Xenophobia

In this country, policies concerning immigration continually confront politicians to make difficult decisions. In a democracy, every public policy requires some accommodations from what experts might conceive as a technocratic ideal to adapt to political pressures. There is no reason to expect that policy toward who is allowed to work in a country would be any different.

Advocates for “enforcement only” would like nothing better than to see a future in which most of the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the US be removed, either through coercive means or voluntarily. This, however, is not the first time that fear has triggered the adoption of tough immigration policies. For example, it was economic insecurity that triggered the racism that contributed to the passage of the infamous laws excluding Chinese immigrants from the US in the late 1800s.

Given the history of US propaganda coupled with the general invisibility of Latina/o civil rights abuses during the last century, it is not surprising that a large majority of Americans have not heard of the forced removal of approximately one to two million persons from the United States during the Great Depression. The 1930s marked the first time in the history of international migration between the US and other countries that the federal government sponsored and supported the mass deportation of immigrants.

Now more than ever, we must look to our nation’s history, especially the tragedy of the Mexican repatriation, as the United States continues to wage a “war on terror” in response to the horrible loss of life on September 11, 2001. This “war” has not only targeted immigrants, but has subjected them to same special immigration procedures, arrest, detention, raids on homes, the confiscation of property, and deportation from the US.

Unfortunately, throughout US history, when harsh measures are done in the name of national security, it is often directed at unpopular ethnic/racial minorities. It is not far fetch to compare the current Administration’s responses to the tragic events of 9/11 to the internment of persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II because the policies that were passed after 9/11 proved to be no different. Racial profiling in this sense is a tool that Americans turn to when a perceived outsider threatens to damage the status quo.

Within hours of the declaration of war on Japan, all Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans who were in the US were branded “alien enemies.” According to the US Department of Justice’s “Review of the Restrictions on Persons of Italian Ancestry During World War II: Report to the Congress of the United States,” within a few days after President issued Proclamations 2525, 2526 and 2527, 500 aliens of different ancestries were on a train with darkened windows bound for an undisclosed location in Montana.

During World War II, approximately 120,000 men, women, elderly, and children of Japanese ancestry, of which 60% were native-born citizens, were sent to interment camps. Though many Americans are aware of the Japanese-American internment during the war, few know about the wartime abuses of Americans of German and Italian descent. However, their abuses where to a much lesser extent than the Japanese.

As then California Attorney General Earl Warren put it:

“When we are dealing with the Caucasian race we have methods that will test the loyalty of them. But when we deal with the Japanese, we are on an entirely different field.”

Like the Japanese, German and Italian during World War II, raids were made upon scores of Arabs and Arab Americans immediately following the tragic events of 9/11. Persons generally were not told the specific reason for the raid because they were depicted as the “enemy” who could not be trusted and needed to be contained.

Another similarity since the days of internment has to do with the reasons to target individuals based on their ethnic background. In 2004, in “The Hispanic Challenge,” Samuel Huntington wrote:

The persistent inflow of Hispanic immigrants threatens to divide the United States into two peoples, two cultures, and two languages. Unlike past immigrant groups, Mexicans and other Latinos have not assimilated into mainstream U.S. culture…

Whether born in Mexico or in the United States, Mexican children overwhelmingly did not choose “American” as their primary identification.

Demographically, socially, and culturally, the reconquista (re-conquest) of the Southwest United States by Mexican immigrants is well underway. [emphasis mine]

Such sentiments were echoed by influential government officials like Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, the head of the Western Defense Command and the chief proponent of the internment of Japanese Americans at the time.

In Final Report: Japanese Evacuation, DeWitt wrote:

The continued presence of a large, unassimilated, tightly knit and racial group, bound to an enemy nation by strong ties of race, culture, custom and religion along a frontier vulnerable to attack constituted a menace which had to be dealt with.

The harsh reality is that America is a racist society. Not only are these occurrences instances of racism, they are evidence of a longstanding American tradition of using racial profiling in order to subordinate and control the threatening menace of the “other.” Fear is always used to justify the use of racial profiling. It is easy to deduce the existing parallelism between the repatriation of the 1930s, the internment of the Japanese, and the measures taken by the US government in the name of national security after September 11. Almost a century later many of the actors have changed, but the situation is not greatly different.

Be it fear of the Japanese or fear of the job stealing Mexican, Americans, with the help of the media, are conditioned to fear the “other,” even when it turns out there was nothing to fear. In other words, public opinion is manipulated to to uphold the status quo and protect privilege from those unprivileged.

Approximately 60 percent of those deported to Mexico in the 1930s were US citizens; many of them were children because their immigrant parents were sent there. It is estimated that one to two million people were deported from the US. Twelve states – Colorado, Illinois, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming – all lost over half of its Mexican population, while Indiana lost three-fourths.

Several decades later, it is clear that federal, state, and local officials violated the legal rights, especially those who were stopped, interrogated, and detained but not removed from the country.

In “Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s,” Francisco Balderrama and Raymond Rodríquez documents the historical events surrounding that time. The mass deportation campaign of the 1930s destroyed lives. Families were torn apart. Deportees lost their personal property, automobiles, homes, businesses, and other investments in America.

Both the Mexican-American and Mexican immigrant communities were terrified and the impacts were profound. The repatriation negatively affected the views of Mexican-Americans of government in the United States. This distrust of government remains to this day, with many Latina/os sharing a deep fear and view of law enforcement and immigration authorities.

The deportation campaign of the 1930s is part of a long history of “enforcement only” immigration policies that have violated the civil rights of persons of Mexican ancestry in the US; such as, Operation Wetback, another mass deportation campaign of Mexican immigrants and Mexican-American citizens. In 1954, hundreds of thousands of Mexican immigrants and Mexican-American citizens were also rounded up and deported. The 1996 immigration legislation has resulted in increased border enforcement that led in hundreds, if not thousands, border deaths and a dramatic rise in deportations.

Unfortunately, recent immigration raids are eerily reminiscent to anti-Mexican sentiments of the 1930s, which many Mexican immigrants were succumbed to the worst kind of racial profiling and scapegoating. People were rounded up, herded onto trains and buses, and driven to the border. This was true for citizens by birth and those who had been lawfully naturalized to become citizens.

During Pope Benedict’s visit to the White House, April 16, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other federal law enforcement agencies along with an array of other local, state law enforcement raided Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plants in six states, arresting more than 300 workers at the nation’s largest chicken-processing plants on charges of identity theft, document fraud and immigration violations. According to ICE, only 91 were charged with criminal violations, while the remaining employees are being processed for deportation.

Commenting on the raids, Sister Lena Deevy, Executive Director of the Irish Immigration Center, said:

“President Bush welcomed Pope Benedict to the White House and spoke about freedom in a ‘spirit of mutual support.’ Yet, in my eyes, President Bush fails to live up to his words by continuing to increase harsh enforcement measures and refusing to help immigrants become citizens. Today’s immigration raids across America are yet another example of political scapegoating at its worst.”

Currently, only a few articles have been written about the current US’ mass deportation campaign. Most are about individual cases or the raids conducted by ICE, and even those are often short, perfunctory and dependent on government sources for information. Just because there isn’t any follow up to pieces does not mean repatriation is simply ancient history.

Most people overlook the degree to which racial stereotypes might influence the public’s perception on the targeted ethnic/racial group, in this case, Latina/os. If one where to examine post-9/11 immigration enforcement practices closely, much can be inferred from ICE’s immigration raids. Of the few articles written about the raids conducted by ICE, one could easily come to the conclusion that Latina/os continue to be coded in ways that conflate their identities with immigrants or foreigners, which means they would be presumptively subjected to immigration laws.

The Latino-as-foreigner stereotype is particularly troublesome when this perception slides into Latino-as-illegal-immigrant stereotype. This view tends to associate any brown-skin person who speaks English with a Spanish accent as an undocumented immigrant. In 2006, in an operation dubbed “Operation Wagon Train,” it was reported that ICE rounded up, questioned, and detained persons based on their skin color. During the raid, ICE targeted Latina/os at six meat-processing plants that fit a crude profile of the undocumented immigrant.

In September 2006, in a series of raids conducted in southeast Georgia, 15-year-old Marie Justeen Mancha, a US citizen, found herself in the middle of a botched immigration raid when federal agents barged into her home. During there raid, ICE targeted US citizens of Mexican descent, like Mancha, solely because of their skin color. With the help of Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Mancha, her mother and three other US citizens of Mexican descent are plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against ICE.

This is not the first time a US citizen was wrongly accused of being undocumented. Last year, Peter Guzman, a mentally disabled US citizen who was born in Los Angeles, was deported from an L.A. County jail despite clear evidence that he was a citizen. He spent nearly three months lost in Mexico while family members desperately searched for him. Like Manacha, attorneys for the ACLU of Southern California and the law firm of Morrison & Foerster filed a lawsuit against ICE on behalf of Peter Guzman.

Last March, ICE agents in San Francisco detained Kebin Reyes, a 6-year-old boy who was born in the U.S., for 12 hours when they arrested his father as an undocumented immigrant. Earilier this year, Marisa Taylor of McClatchy Newspapers reported that a 2006 unpublished study by Vera Institute of Justice, a New York nonprofit organization, identified 125 people in immigration detention centers across the nation.

An unpublished study by the Vera Institute of Justice, a New York nonprofit organization, in 2006 identified 125 people in immigration detention centers across the nation who immigration lawyers believed had valid U.S. citizenship claims.

Vera initially focused on six facilities where most of the cases surfaced. The organization later broadened its analysis to 12 sites and plans to track the outcome of all cases involving citizens.

Although the number of US citizens who have been swept up in the raids is small compared to the mass deportation of the 1930s, the article went to say that there is a good possibility that “many more American citizens” are falsely being “detained or deported every year,” according to Nina Siulc, the lead researcher of the study.

It is not surprising that immigration and other law enforcement officers are being accused of engaging in unlawful racial discrimination by Latina/os. . The lawsuit filed by SPLC against ICE charges that agents violated Mancha’s Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. It will be interesting to see what comes from this lawsuit because it has already been ruled that racial profiling is allowed to a certain degree in immigration enforcement.

In United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, the Supreme Court found that the immigration stop in question violated the Fourth Amendment because Border Patrol officers relied exclusively on “the apparent Mexican ancestry” of the occupants of an automobile; the Court, however, further stated that “[t]he likelihood that any given person of Mexican ancestry is an alien is high enough to make Mexican appearance a relevant factor” in an immigration stop.

There are many circumstances that drive undocumented migration, such as the desire for economic betterment. The ebb and flow of migration has always resulted in increased tension and apprehension. In a time of a severe national economic crisis, history has shown deportation is often used to save jobs for true “Americans” and to reduce social service expenses by encouraging Mexicans to “voluntary” leave the country.

The federal government’s response to September 11 and the current economic crises demonstrate the close relationship between immigration law and civil rights. Consequently, the laws and policies put into place in the name of fighting terrorism have disproportionately affected Latina/o immigrants. The willingness of Congress to disturb traditional operations of the courts, states, and federal bureaucracy in what it perceives to be the special circumstances of immigration has contributed enormously to the problem.

Congress is only one source of American law. One can argue that International law condemns forced deportation, or exile, of a nation’s citizens and that the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (UDHR) expressly states that “[n]o one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” Or that the Rome Statute, declares that it is a “crime against humanity” to engage in the “[d]eportation or forcible transfer of population” from a country.

Sadly, there is a fundamental disconnect between international human rights laws and our laws protecting our civil rights. Recently, the Supreme Court ruled, Medellín v. Texas, that an international treaty may constitute an international commitment, but it is not enforceable as domestic law unless Congress has enacted statutes implementing it or unless the treaty itself is “self-executing” and that decisions of the International Court of Justice are also not enforceable as domestic law. Although the Justices was not making it’s ruling on the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” it’s ruling does pose a challenge to the universality of the Declaration.

The US record of ratifying human rights treaties was quite dismal. As the UDHR was not expected to impose binding obligations, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights began drafting a pair of binding Covenants, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Covenant on Economic and Social Rights (ICESCR), on human rights intended to impose concrete obligations on their parties. As of today, Congress has only ratified one of the two Covenants.

Although the US ratified the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, however, the Senate attached a number of reservations, understandings, and declarations. In particular, the Senate declared that “the provisions of Article 1 through 27 of the Covenant are not self-executing.” In other words, with the recent Supreme Court ruling, Article 9, which addresses the issue of detention, may be ostensibly binding upon the United States as a matter of international law; it does not form part of the domestic law of the nation.

Rather than learning from past mistakes, the laws and policies put into place in the name of fighting terrorism have disproportionately affected Latina/o immigrants and it seems there is no end in sight. Now that the Supreme Court has upheld many racial, national origin, political, and other forms of discrimination in the immigration laws, this have given the federal government opportunity to create more aggressive anti-terrorism policies.

As a nation, we must be most careful in times of severe national stress. History has shown time and time again, the nation often has acted aggressively but mistakenly, frequently punishing minorities. Commenting on last months raids, Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said, “There is a fundamental disconnect between our nation’s moral belief that all human beings should be treated with dignity and the implementation of our nation’s broken immigration system.”

America must admit its wrongdoing to help ensure its sins are not repeated. The true test of human progress is whether we have the wisdom to see our faults and the strength to acknowledge them. Until we admit that racial profiling can never work, we will never progress from the days of old.

cross-posted on The Sanctuary

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