Los Repatriados
Los Repatriados > History > Deportation: Adiós, Migra
Mexican migrant family in California having tire trouble.

Historically deportation has been one of many legal ways of getting rid of unruly, unpopular or unwanted people in any given society. In the 1930’s people could be deported for suffering from epilepsy, prostitution, being handicapped or being unable to work. Being charged with illegal entry, being convicted of a crime, advocating overthrow of the government orbeing accused of carrying contagious diseases are all examples of additional grounds for deportation. The majority of Mexicans deported for being in the country illegally could not ask for a hearing, which would allow some in rare cases to stay as refugees. In any case, most officials did not inform them of their rights. Unaware of the law and unable to file any complaints, most would voluntarily return to Mexico. Some chose to leave instead of waiting for a lengthy trial because they expected to return soon once the U.S. was out of an economic depression.

Mexicans were often deported in large groups. Individuals who were unable to afford a lawyer and did not speak English stood little chance in winning their cases. Deportation was also used to reduce prison costs. In their defense Consuls complained that for some of the Mexicans who had lost their jobs crime was the only option to survive. The immigration system had many faults, like the fact that the same officer often served as interpreter, accuser, judge, and jury.1 Mass raids were often conducted without warrants and individuals were held without being able to see or talk to anyone.

In 1932 Robert Oppenheimer headed a federal commission for the FBI that investigated and reported the apprehension and examination of supposed aliens. They found both to be characterized by methods considered unconstitutional, tyrannical and oppressive. From 1930 to 1939 Mexicans comprised less than 1 percent of the U.S. population yet they comprised 46.3% of U.S. deportations.2 The investigation found that some raids in areas close to the border would simply drop off suspects at the border. Meanwhile, patriotic groups in favor of radical measures against immigration led to introduction of proposals in congress such as the establishment of concentration camps for all aliens. Congressmen throughout the country were instrumental in supporting and writing many of these proposals and also writing articles suggesting that the Immigration Service be transferred from the Department of Labor to the Justice Department. Even though the transfer did eventually happen it did not improve on it's efficiency or reputation. For example the Los Angeles County Bar Association reported on the “lawless enforcement of the law” and many racist practices that put anyone of color at risk of being picked up in the street.3 This widespread practice affected everyone in the community and there were numerous accounts of women crying in the streets due to the loss of their husbands. Even people who had resided in the U.S. for many years and their U.S.-born children were deported after having crossed the border without any trouble for years.

In August of 1933 through May of 1934 about 550 Mexicans were deported from different cities in California while just over 300 were deported from 11 other major cities in the country.4 Mexicans were targeted not only by their location within the U.S. but also by religious affiliation. During the raids immigration officers could choose which documents they would accept as proof of legal entry or residency. The Immigration Service would refute accusations of racial profiling and other forms of targeting Mexicans by emphasizing on the capture of one or two non-Mexicans, usually Asian deportees.

Texas had a stringent deportation campaign deporting many Mexicans from the Rio Grande Valley. In the first nine months of 1931 more people were deported than entered the U.S.5 The Immigration Service partnered with businesses and unions and began to target strikes held by foreigners. They would arbitrarily deport on the grounds of engaging in illegal activities. They also used labels like ‘communist’ or ‘radical’ to gain support for deportations. Other federal commission reports criticized the Immigration Service's methods and costs incurred by the U.S. to provide for the dependents of deportees who were left behind. The Mexican Consul was supposed to be informed of all deportations before they happened. Since that was rarely the case they denounced the poor treatment of Mexican nationals. This also spoke against the fact that Mexicans only had lawyers available at the discretion of immigration officials because officials thought that lawyers simply aggravated the situation. However, history shows that in the few cases when lawyers were involved the results usually favored the deportees. Lawyers could not be present until the case needed to be appealed in Washington DC. In essence, the system was designed to disregard the legal rights of deportees and railroading them out of the country.

Meetings were held by U.S. and Mexican leaders, including the Immigration Director, on how to deal with the situation. With the Olympic Games to come in 1932, the U.S., especially Los Angeles, could not afford any accusations of racism. Businessmen were also concerned because Mexico might have replaced U.S. companies with Canadian firms for building the International Highway. The Immigration Service experienced increasing pressure from the public to stop mass deportation raids. Fortunately, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal administration brought more humane deportation and immigration practices to the U.S. after 1934 deportation of Mexicans dropped by approximately 50 percent.6

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