Mar 14, 2016
Today Donald Trump loudly says that Mexicans are “taking our jobs” and calls for deporting all “illegals.” Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton denounce Trump, and Clinton calls Trump’s deportation plans “absurd, inhumane and un-American.”
But in fact, Republican and Democratic Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt oversaw a real program of mass deportations. In the 1930s, the United States deported about two million people to Mexico – more than half of whom were U.S. citizens.
The U.S. capitalist class has long used Mexico as a source of reserve labor. They bring workers in when needed, then kick them out when they’re not needed.
In the 1910s and 1920s, many Mexican immigrants came to the United States, often fleeing the civil wars that accompanied the Mexican Revolution. Business owners in the U.S. were happy to have these immigrants as workers, since WWI and new restrictions slowed the flow of immigrants from Europe.
In the Midwest some of them worked in steel, meat-packing or auto. Most worked in the fields of Texas and California, moving from camp to camp, living in deplorable conditions. They lacked the most basic necessities, like housing, schools or healthcare
When the U.S. Depression hit, the capitalists no longer needed an expanded work force. In fact, they feared the social problems that unemployment created. The fact that workers came from Mexico gave the capitalists an easy “solution” to a reduced need for labor – deportation. Plus, this was a way to convince other workers that officials were doing something about unemployment. As a Los Angeles official wrote to call for deporting Mexicans: “We need their jobs for needy citizens.”
County officials, state officials, and federal officials started carrying out raids wherever Mexicans lived. Afterward, the federal government’s own Wickersham Commission called these raids “unconstitutional, tyrannic and oppressive” – but that didn’t stop them.
Big companies like U.S. Steel, Ford Motor Company, Southern Pacific Railroad and others laid off their Mexican workers and told them to leave the country. The unions, like the American Federation of Labor, loudly called for mass deportation of Mexicans, as did the press. All of this contributed to a climate of fear that convinced many Mexicans to leave “voluntarily.”
The deportations started under Herbert Hoover and continued once Roosevelt took office in 1933.
In fact, more than half of those deported were U.S. citizens, born in this country. Some Mexican Americans had been in Texas and California for four generations – but many were deported anyway.
The problem of mass unemployment ended when the U.S. started preparing for World War II in early 1940. As the demand for workers picked up, the deportations slowed.
After the U.S. entered World War II, Roosevelt started a new program to bring Mexican workers into the U.S., not as citizens, only as temporary “guest workers,” called braceros. They were again denied the most basic rights and services, like schools for their children or the right to join a union.
What kind of system is it that uses workers this way? Whether workers are migrants or permanent residents in the U.S., all are a part of the working class. It’s all of our labor together that has built the wealth the U.S. is famous for. We should be joining forces together to fight for a higher quality of life – not buying into the capitalist politicians’ divide and rule games.