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Mexican Repatriation


Mexican Repatriation

The Mexican Repatriation refers to a forced return to Mexico of people of Mexican descent from the United States between 1929 and 1936.[1][2] The mandate, carried out by American authorities, took place without due process.[3] The Immigration and Naturalization Service targeted Mexicans in California, Texas, and Colorado because of "the proximity of the Mexican border, the physical distinctiveness of mestizos, and easily identifiable barrios."[4] Studies have provided conflicting numbers for how many Mexicans were repatriated during the Great Depression, but estimates range from 500,000 to 2 million.[5][6] In 2005, the State of California passed an official "Apology Act" to those forced to relocate to Mexico, an estimated 1.2 million of whom were United States citizens.[7][8]


  • Historical background 1
    • Mexicans in the U.S. 1848-1920s 1.1
    • U.S. Citizenship and immigration law prior to World War II 1.2
    • The Great Depression 1.3
  • Repatriation 2
    • Justifications for repatriation 2.1
    • Federal government action 2.2
    • Local actions in Los Angeles 2.3
    • Raids and legal proceedings 2.4
  • Apologies 3
    • Operation Wetback 3.1
  • Media 4
  • See also 5
  • Further reading 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Historical background

Mexicans in the U.S. 1848-1920s

With the U.S. victory in the Mexican American War, territory that had been part of Mexico was ceded to the U.S., comprising the present-day states of California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of Texas, Colorado, and Wyoming to the United States under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The United States paid $15 million for the land that reduced Mexican territory to 55 percent of what it was before the war.[9] The 80,000 Mexican citizens in this newly acquired U.S. territory were promised U.S. citizenship, although Native Americans were excluded.[10][11] About 2,000 of the total 80,000 decided to move to Mexican territory. Mexicans who remained in the U.S. were considered U.S. citizens and counted as white on the U.S. census until 1930; however, the majority European population treated them as foreigners.[12]

During the California Gold Rush of 1849, many Mexicans had immigrated to the California gold fields or to work for wages building the railroad system. Following the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Mexican immigrants began to increase in numbers in order to fill the labor demand that had previously been held mainly by Chinese immigrants. At the onset of the 20th century, “U.S. employers went so far as to make request directly to the president of Mexico to send more labor into the United States” and hired “aggressive labor recruiters who work outside the parameters of the U.S.” in order to recruit Mexican labor for jobs in industry, railroads, meatpacking, steel mills, and agriculture.[13] “By 1900 approximately 500,000 people of Mexican ancestry lived in the United States. Roughly 100,000 of these residents were born in Mexico; the remainder were second-generation inhabitants . . . and their offspring.”[10]

The chaotic Mexican Revolution caused many Mexicans to flee Mexico during the years of 1910-1920. In addition, during this revolutionary period many farmers were unable to cope with the drastic increase in the cost of living, forcing many to migrate north in search of employment.[14]

In 1920 and 1921, the U.S. economy was hard hit by a short but deep depression. Immediately when the depression hit, “U.S. officials and employers advised the U.S. government that a massive deportation program was the only option for relieving local and national benevolence agencies of the burden of helping braceros and their families.”.[15] Although it was recorded the federal government deported 1,268 Mexicans during this year, the government told employers “the American government would not help any emigrant who came on their own in search of work and advised employers to send them home.”.[16] Workers and their families were so desperate that the Mexican government set up programs in order to pay to repatriate 150,000 Mexican emigrants.

U.S. Citizenship and immigration law prior to World War II

In 1924, the U.S. Border Patrol was established on the Mexico–U.S. border. Prior to this date, Mexican immigration was relatively easy. "A Mexican caught crossing the border illegally was told that if he wished to enter the U.S., he had to do so at a regular station and pay the fees.”[17] Immigration from the Western Hemisphere had remained unrestricted until 1965 with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act.[18]

Due to the lax immigration enforcement, many citizens, legal residents, and immigrants did not have the official documentation proving their citizenship, had lost their documents, or just never applied for citizenship.[19] For many Mexicans, “the privileges of American citizenship offered little of substance to the Mexican national who knew that if he became a citizen he would still be, in the eyes of the Anglos, a Mexican.”.[20] For these reasons, and because there was a feeling of protection by remaining a Mexican citizen and a sense of group pressure not to apply for citizenship by other Mexicans,[21] many Mexicans did not have the documentation to prove their legal status in the United States, or the citizenship in order to secure them the rights provided to American citizens.[22]

The Great Depression

Following the

  • History From The Margins
  • The American Apple: From Family Grown to Foreign Migrant Labor
  • Letter of repatriation (1933) sent to California resident

External links

  • Hunt, Kasie (2006-04-05), "Some stories hard to get in history books",  
  1. ^ Rosales, A. (2007). Repatriation of Mexicans during the great depression. In L. Soto (Ed.), The praeger Handbook of Latino Education in the U.S.. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. Retrieved from
  2. ^ a b Johnson, Kevin (Fall 2005). "The Forgotten "Repatriation" of Persons of Mexican Ancestry and Lessons for the "War on Terror"". Davis, California: Pace Law Review. 
  3. ^ Sharon Ann Navarro and Armando Xavier Mejia, Latino Americans and Political Participation Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2004. ISBN 1-85109-523-3. page 277.
  4. ^ Ruiz, Vicki L. (1998). Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America. New York: Oxford University Press.  
  5. ^ a b c d e Hoffman
  6. ^ a b c d Balderrama and Rodriguez
  7. ^ a b c Koch, Wendy (2006-04-05). "U.S. urged to apologize for 1930s deportations". USA Today. Retrieved 2010-05-12. 
  8. ^ a b SB 670 Senate Bill - CHAPTERED
  9. ^ "Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo 1848". Retrieved May 24, 2011. 
  10. ^ a b Allan Englekirk. "Mexican Americans". Retrieved May 24, 2011. 
  11. ^ PBS. "U.S.-Mexican War, 1846-1848". Retrieved May 24, 2011. 
  12. ^ Rodriguez, Clara E. (2000). Changing Race: Latinos, the Census and the History of Ethnicity. New York: New York University Press. 
  13. ^ Aguila, Jamie R. (March 2007). "Mexican/U.S. Immigration Policy Prior to the Great Depression". The Journal of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations Diplomatic History 31: 207–225. 
  14. ^ Hoffman, Abraham (1974). Unwanted Mexican Americans in the Great Depression:Repatriation Pressures, 1929-1939. Tucson University Press. 
  15. ^ Aguila 213
  16. ^ Aguila 214
  17. ^ Hoffman, Abraham (1974). Unwanted Mexican Americans in the Great Depression:Repatriation Pressures, 1929-1939. Tucson University Press. 
  18. ^ Hayes, Helene (2001). U.S. Immigration Policy and the Undocumented. Connecticut: Praeger Publisher. 
  19. ^ Francisco Balderrama, Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
  20. ^ Hoffman 20
  21. ^ Hoffman, 19
  22. ^ Aguila
  23. ^ Garraty, John A. (1986). The Great Depression. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 
  24. ^ "U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic". US Department of labor. Retrieved 5 July 2012. 
  25. ^ Balderrama and Rodriguez 4
  26. ^ Bogardus, Emory S. 1933- "Mexican Repatriates," Sociology and Social Research. 18 (November/December). 169-76
  27. ^ Betlen, Neil, and Mohl, Raymond A, 1973. "From Discrimination to Repatriation. Mexican Life in Gary, Indiana, during the Great Depression." Pacific Historical Review, 42 (August):37O-88
  28. ^ Balderrama and Rodriguez 67
  29. ^ Balderrama and Rodriguez 99
  30. ^ Balderrama and Rodriguez 99
  31. ^ Balderrama 100
  32. ^ Balderrama and Rodriguez 68
  33. ^ Balderrama 77
  34. ^ Balderrama and Rodriguez 89
  35. ^ Balderrama and Rodriguez 89-91
  36. ^ Balderrama and Rodriguez 75
  37. ^ Balderrama and Rodriguez 76
  38. ^ Hoffman 83.
  39. ^ a b Balderrama
  40. ^ Balderrama and Rodriguez 71
  41. ^ Balderram and Rodriguez 70
  42. ^ Balderrama and Rodriguez 72
  43. ^ Balderrama and Rodriguez 67.
  44. ^ Balderrama and Rodriguez 79
  45. ^ Hoffman 91
  46. ^ a b c (Hunt 2006)
  47. ^ Texas State Historical Association. "Operation Wetback". Retrieved May 24, 2011. 
  48. ^ Operation Wetback#cite note-autogenerated1-0
  49. ^ "A Forgotten Injustice" (PDF). Retrieved May 24, 2011. 
  50. ^ A Forgotten Injustice (trailer). YouTube. November 2, 2008. 


  • Abraham Hoffman, Unwanted Mexican Americans in the Great Depression: Repatriation Pressures, 1929-1939 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1974)
  • Francisco Balderrama and Raymond Rodríguez, Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995), ISBN 0-8263-1575-5
  • John Chavez, The Lost Land: A Chicano Image of the Southwest, (New Mexico University, 1984)
  • INS Yearbook of Statistics-Years 1929 to 1939
  • Robert R. McKay, "The Federal Deportation Campaign in Texas: Mexican Deportation from the Lower Rio Grande Valley during the Great Depression," Borderlands Journal, Fall 1981
  • National Academy of Sciences, 1998, "The Immigration Debate"
  • Peter Skerry "Mexican Americans: The Ambivalent Minority"
  • Christine Valenciana, "Unconstitutional Deportation of Mexican Americans During the 1930s: A Family History and Oral History," Multicultural Education, Spring 2006

Further reading

See also

Vicente Serrano and and Mechicano Films created a documentary film called "A Forgotten Injustice", which "includes interviews with historians, politicians and survivors. Among them, Former California State Senator Joseph Dunn, John Coatsworth, Dean, School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, Hilda Solis, US Representative, Raymond Rodriguez, Professor of History, emeritus, Long Beach City College, Francisco Balderrama, co-author of "Decade of Betrayal", Ernesto Nava Villa, Son of Pancho Villa, and John Eastman, Dean, Dale E. Fowler School of Law at Chapman University."[49][50]


The federal government responded to the increased levels of immigration that began during the war years with the official 1954 INS program called Operation Wetback in which an estimated one million persons, the majority of which were Mexican nationals and undocumented immigrants but some were also US citizens, were deported to Mexico.[47][48]

Operation Wetback

The Repatriation is not widely discussed in U.S. history textbooks;[46] in a 2006 survey of the nine most commonly used American history textbooks in the United States, four did not mention the Repatriation, and only one devoted more than half a page to the topic.[46] Nevertheless, many mainstream textbooks now carry this topic. In total, they devoted four pages to the Repatriation, compared with eighteen pages for the Japanese American internment[46] which, though also a gross violation of the rights of citizens, affected a much smaller number of people, even by the more conservative estimates for the Mexican deportations.[2]

The state of California was the first state to apologize when it passed the "Apology Act for the 1930s Mexican Repatriation Program" in 2005, officially recognizing the "unconstitutional removal and coerced emigration of United States citizens and legal residents of Mexican descent" and apologizing to residents of California "for the fundamental violations of their basic civil liberties and constitutional rights committed during the period of illegal deportation and coerced emigration."[7][8]

The federal government has not apologized for the repatriations. In 2006, representatives Hilda Solis and Luis Gutiérrez introduced a bill calling for a commission to study the issue, and called for an apology.[7]


Since the 1930s many Mexican-American families have had to face the unbearable decisions on how to proceed after a loved one is repatriated. Repatriation can challenge Mexican-American families facing deportation financially and emotionally. Families facing the dilemma of forced deportation must decide how to overcome the financial burden of travel, and/or costly attorney fees for the legal proceedings to obtain a visa. One must also consider the financial burden of downsizing to one income when one parent must repatriate. There is an emotional devastation that the children (who are legal United States citizens) can suffer when their parents repatriate. The alternative option, which would be relocating the American born children to their parent’s homeland,also brings many difficult challenges for the children.

Most people were unconstitutionally denied their legal rights of due process and equal protection under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. When it came to federal deportation proceedings, undocumented immigrants, once apprehended, had two options: they could either ask for a hearing or “voluntarily” return to their native country. The benefit of asking for a hearing was the potential to persuade the immigration officer that if they were returned to their home country they would be placed in a life-threatening situation (which was the case for those who had fled the war or were escaping religious persecution) and would be able to stay under the current immigration law as refugees. If the immigrant lost the hearing, they would be barred from ever returning to the United States. Although requesting a hearing was a possibility, immigration officers rarely informed undocumented immigrants of their rights, and the hearings were “official but informal,” in that immigration inspectors “acted as interpreter, accuser, judge, and jury.”.[43] Moreover, the deportee was seldom represented by a lawyer, a privilege that could only be granted at the discretion of the immigration officer.[39] The second option, which was to voluntarily deport themselves from the US, would allow these individuals to reenter the US legally at a later date because “no arrest warrant was issued and no legal record or judicial transcript of the incident was kept.”.[44] However, many were being misled and enticed to leave the country by county officials who told Mexicans if they left now they would be able to return later. But many were given a “stamp on their card by the Department of Charities/County Welfare Department which makes it impossible for any of the Mexican born to return, since it shows that they have been county charities. All that the American officials had to do was invoke the “liable to become a public charge” clause of the 1917 Immigration Act and deny readmission.”[45] Many were also threatened by county officials that insisted individuals and their family members would be removed from relief rolls if they did not accept the county’s offer to pay for their return to Mexico.[6] In this way, individuals were simultaneously threatened and enticed by the offer for a free trip to Mexico. The Mexican Consulate during these repatriation campaigns was also promulgating and sponsoring campaigns to repatriate Mexicans - the expenses would be paid and some would even be repatriated to a job in Mexico, although these sort of programs could not be sponsored throughout the entire repatriation campaign.[6]

These raids include the San Fernando Raid, La Placita Raid, and El Monte Raid. The San Fernando Raid took place on Ash Wednesday. Immigration agents and deputies blocked off all exits to the Mexican neighborhood and “rode around the neighborhood with their sirens wailing and advising people to surrender themselves to the authorities.”[42] The La Placita Raid occurred on February 26, 1931. Led by Watkins, immigration officers enclosed a park with 400 Mexicans. Everyone in the park was made to line up and show evidence of legal entry into the United States before they could leave.[6] In the El Monte Raid, 300 people were stopped and questioned, 13 were jailed, and of the 13 jailed, 12 were Mexican.[5]

The streets of East Los Angeles, a heavily populated Mexican area, were deserted only after the first few days that raids had been conducted.[5] Local merchants complained to investigators that the raids were bad for their businesses. According to Balderrama, “Raids assumed the logistics of full-scale paramilitary operations. Federal officials, country deputy sheriffs, and city police cooperated in local roundups in order to assure maximum success.”[40] Sheriff Traeger and his deputies' tactics included large round ups of Mexicans who were arbitrarily arrested and taken to jail without checking whether or not the people were carrying legal documentation.[5] Jose David Orozco described on his local radio station the ““women crying in the streets when not finding their husbands” after deportation sweeps had occurred.”[41] Mexican Consulates across the country were receiving complaints of “harassment, beatings, heavy-handed tactics, and verbal abuse” (Balderrama 79).

Raids and legal proceedings

C.P. Visel, the spokesman for Los Angeles Citizens Committee for Coordination of Unemployment Relief began his “unemployment relief measure” that would create a “psychological gesture” intended to “scarehead” Mexicans out of the United States. His idea was to have a series of “publicity releases announcing the deportation campaign, a few arrests would be made “with all publicity possible and pictures,” and both police and deputy sheriffs would assist” (Balderrama 2). Watkins, Supervisor of the Bureau of Immigration, and his agents were responsible for many mass raids and deportations. Local government was responsible for the media attention that was given to these raids in order to “scarehead” immigrants, specifically Mexicans. There were also repeated press releases from LA city officials that asserted Mexicans were not being targeted. Actions taken by immigration officials proved otherwise, provoking many vociferous complaints and criticisms from the Mexican Consulate and Spanish language publication, La Opinión.[39]

“From 1931 on, cities and counties across the country intensified and embarked upon repatriation programs, conducted under the auspices of either local welfare bureaus or private charitable agencies.”[38] Los Angeles chairman of the board of supervisors‘ charities and public welfare committee, Frank L. Shaw had researched about the legality of deportation but was advised by legal counsel that only the federal government was legally allowed to engage in deportation proceedings.[5] As a result, the county decided that their campaign would be called “repatriation,” a euphemism for deportation.

Local actions in Los Angeles

In response to Los Angeles county’s Unemployment Relief Coordinator Visel’s telegram, the federal government sent supervisors of the Bureau of Immigration, Walter E. Carr and W.F. Watkins (both at different times) to Los Angeles to help conduct deportations in the Los Angeles area.

President Hoover publicly endorsed Secretary of Labor William N. Doak and his campaign to add “245 more agents to assist in the deportation of 500,000 foreigners.”[36] Doak’s endeavors to expel Mexican immigrants has been described as unscrupulous. His measures included monitoring labor protests or farm strikes and labeling protesters and protest leaders as possible subversives, communists, or radicals. “Strike leaders and picketers would be arrested, charged with being illegal aliens or engaging in illegal activities, and thus be subject to arbitrary deportation.”[37] Labeling Mexican activists in this way was a way to garner public support for actions taken by the immigration agents and federal government such as mass raids, arbitrary arrests, and deportation campaigns.

As the effects of the Great Depression worsened and affected larger amounts of people, feelings of hostility toward immigrants increased rapidly, and the Mexican community as a whole suffered as a result. States began passing laws that required all public employees to be American citizens and employers were subject to harsh penalties such as a five hundred dollar fine or six months in jail if they hired immigrants. Although the law was hardly enforced, “employers used it as a convenient excuse for not hiring Mexicans. It also made it difficult for any Mexican, whether American citizens or foreign born, to get hired.”[34] The federal government imposed restrictions for immigrant labor as well, requiring firms that supply the government with goods and services refrain from hiring immigrants and, as a result, most larger corporations followed suit, and as a result, many employers fired their Mexican employees and few hired new Mexican workers causing unemployment to increase among the Mexican population.[35]

Federal government action

An analysis of a study conducted during the 1930s on deportation costs questions the then prevailing argument that deporting immigrants would reduce city costs overall. “If 1,200 aliens were deported, they would leave behind 1,478 dependents who would be eligible for public welfare. $90,000 in government costs to deport individuals and $147,000 yearly to provide for their families indefinitely or until they reached legal age. 80% of those deported would be eligible to obtain non-quota preference for reentry due to the fact that they had wives, children, or other relatives who were citizens or legal residents.”.[33]

According to Los Angeles, California county officials, returning immigrants to their country of origin would save the city money by reducing the number of needy families using federal welfare funds and free up jobs for those perceived as "Real Americans." A telegram to the U.S. Government Coordinator of Unemployment Relief sent by C.P. Visel, the spokesman for Los Angeles Citizens Committee for Coordination of Unemployment Relief (LACCCU), wrote of the “deportable aliens” in Los Angeles county. He stated, “Local U.S. Department of Immigration personnel not sufficient to handle. You advise please as to method of getting rid. We need their jobs for needy citizens”[28] A member of the Los Angeles County board of Supervisors, H.M. Blaine, is recorded as saying "the majority of the Mexicans in the Los Angeles Colonia were either on relief or were public charges.”[29] While such statistics for Los Angeles in particular are not currently known, sources at the time indicated that, nationwide, less than 10 percent of people on welfare were Mexican or of Mexican descent.[30] American citizens who were experiencing the negative effects of the Great Depression followed suit in blaming immigrants for their desperation and thought that removing immigrants from relief rolls and having them deported would solve their problems.[31] Independent groups such as the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the National Club of America for Americans thought that deporting Mexicans would free up jobs for U.S. citizens and the latter group urged Americans to pressure the government into deporting Mexicans.[32]

Justifications for repatriation


The impact of the Great Depression on coal miners was devastating. These laborers possessed very few skills other than coal mining. Most were unable to obtain other employment, and many returned to Mexico by choice, but many were also forced to leave.[26] There were few economic opportunities for unskilled workers in Mexico in the 1930s. The economic advances achieved by these immigrant Mexican laborers and their U.S.-born children during the early decades of the twentieth century were probably little to nothing. Immigration to the United States ceased during the Depression. Few Mexican repatriates were able to reenter the United States during the 1930s, though it is probable, however, that many of the miners returned to the United States when immigration restrictions were relaxed.[27]


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