Mexican Repatriation: The Great Depression and Immigration Policy
During the Great Depression, immigrants were often seen as a problem more than a solution because of high unemployment. Between 1929 and 1939, an estimated 500,000 Mexicans voluntarily or involuntarily emigrated from the US back to Mexico. Of this number, about 35,000 were deported.
When the United States last experienced an economic downturn greater than the present day depression, immigrants were often seen as a problem more than a solution because of high unemployment. As a result, Herbert Hoover authorised the Mexican Repatriation Program, which was the removal – by force if necessary – of both American Citizens of Mexican descent and Mexican immigrants from American soil. Little is written in history books about this episode in American history. Wikipedia describes the events like this:
The Mexican Repatriation refers to a forced migration that took place between 1929 and 1939, when as many as one million people of Mexican descent were forced or pressured to leave the US. (The term “Repatriation,” though commonly used, is inaccurate, since approximately 60% of those driven out were U.S. citizens.) The event, carried out by American authorities, took place without due process. The Immigration and Naturalization Service targeted Mexicans because of “the proximity of the Mexican border, the physical distinctiveness of mestizos, and easily identifiable barrios.”
The Repatriation is not widely discussed in American history textbooks; 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. In total, they devoted four pages to the Repatriation, compared with eighteen pages for the Japanese American internment.
These actions were authorized by President Herbert Hoover and targeted areas with large Hispanic populations, mostly in California, Texas, Colorado, Illinois and Michigan.
Many of the repatriations took place via immigration raids. Wikipedia describes one raid period in Los Angeles in which INS officials questioned several thousand people over a three-week period. The result in terms of numbers of residents repatriated is unclear, but the effect in terms of intimidation on the wider Mexican immigrant community is clear. While the population of American residents of Mexican descent increased overall, an estimated 500,000 Mexicans voluntarily or involuntarily emigrated from the US back to Mexico during the Mexican Repatriation. Of this number, about 35,000 were deported.
Many European immigrants left the U.S. during the Great Depression. I haven’t been able to ascertain any exact numbers for the changes in Italian immigration patterns as a point of comparison to what occurred in the Mexican immigrant community. But, what I did find suggested that Americans of Italian descent also suffered due to xenophobia that arose during the Great Depression. One result was a large move by Italian immigrants into organized labour and the Democratic party (see Italian-Americans from everyculture.com or Wikipedia.
Source: Mexican Repatriation – Wikipedia
- U.S. urged to apologize for 1930s deportations – USA Today, Apr 2006
- Some stories hard to get in history books – USA Today, Apr 2006
- Mexican Repatriation – Absolute Astronomy
- The Immigration Act of 1924 – Wikipedia
- The Immigration Act of 1924 (The Johnson-Reed Act) – US State Department