The Forgotten 'Repatriation' of Persons of Mexican Ancestry and Lessons for the 'War on Terror'
Fifteenth Annual Dyson Distinguished Lecture, Pace Law School, March 2005
30 Pages Posted: 1 Dec 2005
This paper was prepared for the Fifteenth Annual Dyson Distinguished Lecture at Pace Law School on March, 2005. It begins with a forgotten historical incident that spanned a decade and end with the time in which we live. I refer to the "forgotten 'repatriation'" because many Americans have not heard of the forced removal of approximately one million persons - U.S. citizens as well as noncitizens - of Mexican ancestry from the United States during the Great Depression. The invisibility of the repatriation is entirely consistent with the general invisibility of Latina/o civil rights deprivations throughout much of U.S. history.
The United States should acknowledge the repatriation campaign of the 1930s and its long and enduring impact on Mexican-Americans in this country. In a time of severe national economic crisis, the deportation campaign sought to save jobs for true "Americans" and reduce the welfare rolls, by encouraging Mexicans to "voluntarily" leave the country. An economic threat had placed the nation's future in jeopardy, caused severe economic distress for many U.S. citizens, and effectively compelled government to act. A discrete and insular minority, the most available and vulnerable target, suffered from the government's policy choices. This tragic episode is well worth remembering as the United States continues to engage in a "war on terror" in response to the horrible loss of life on September 11, 2001. This "war" has targeted Arab and Muslim noncitizens suspected of no crime and subjected them to special immigration procedures, arrest, detention, and deportation from the United States.
In criticism of the government's responses to the tragic events of September 11, the specter of the internment of the persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II has often been invoked. The analogy is apt in important ways, with racial profiling based on statistical probabilities at the core of the government policies adopted in both incidents. At least in my estimation, however, the repatriation of the 1930s also has modern relevance in evaluating the measures taken by the U.S. government in the name of national security after September 11. This paper draws out the historic and legal parallels between these two episodes in U.S. legal history and suggests that the nation should pay heed to the excesses of the past in considering its practices and policies in the "war on terror."
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation