Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump signs autographs during the National Federation of
Republican Assemblies at Rocketown in Nashville on August 29, 2015. Photo by Harrison McClary/Reuters
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s call for mass deportation
of millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, as well as their American-born children, bears similarities to a large-scale
removal that many Mexican-American families faced 85 years ago.
During the Great Depression, counties and cities in the American Southwest and Midwest forced Mexican
immigrants and their families to leave the U.S. over concerns they were taking jobs away from whites despite their legal right
The result: Around 500,000 to 1 million Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans were pushed out of
the country during the 1930s repatriation, as the removal is sometimes called.
During that time, immigrants were rounded up and sent to Mexico, sometimes in public places and often
without formal proceedings. Others, scared under the threat of violence, left voluntarily.
About 60 percent of those who left were American citizens, according to various studies on the 1930s
repatriation. Later testimonies show families lost most of their possessions and some family members died trying to return.
Neighborhoods in cities such as Houston, San Antonio and Los Angeles became empty.
The impact of the experience on Latinos remains evident today, experts and advocates say.
“It set the tone for later deportations,” said Francisco Balderrama, a Chicano studies professor
at California State University, Los Angeles.
Two weeks ago, Trump said that, if elected president, he would expand deportations and end “birthright
citizenship” for children born to immigrants who are here illegally. Under his plan, American-born children of immigrants
also would be deported with their parents, and Mexico would be asked to help build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“They’re illegal,” Trump said of U.S.-born children of people living in the country
illegally. “You either have a country or not.”
Amid his comments on immigration, polls show negative impressions of Trump among Latinos. A Gallup poll
released Aug. 24 found that Hispanics were more likely to give Trump unfavorable ratings than favorable ones by 51 percentage
Some immigrant advocates pointed to the removal of prominent Latino journalist Jorge Ramos from an Iowa
press conference last week as a metaphor for the candidate’s desire to remove Latinos from the United States.
“Mr. Trump should heed the following warning: Our Latino and immigrant communities are not going
to forget the way he has treated them,” the Washington, D.C.-based Fair Immigration Reform Movement said in a statement.
Ramos, an anchor for Univision, was escorted out by a Trump aide after Ramos, who had criticized Trump
previously, tried to question Trump about his immigration plan. Trump interrupted Ramos, saying he hadn’t been called
on, and ultimately told Ramos, “Go back to Univision.”
Ramos was saying, “You cannot deport 11 million people,” as he was escorted away. He was
later allowed to return.
Trump has provided few details on how his proposed deportation effort would be carried out. The conservative-leaning
American Action Forum concluded in a report it would cost between $400 billion to $600 billion and take 20 years to remove
an estimated 11.2 million immigrants living in the country illegally.
The large-scale deportation he envisions would be impractical to enact, due to the extent to which Mexican
immigrants have integrated into U.S. society, said Columbia University history professor Mae Ngai.
U.S.-born children of immigrants have been automatically considered American citizens since the adoption
of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment in 1868. A Supreme Court ruling in 1898 halted previous attempts to limit the birthright
of Chinese-American citizens after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act.
The ruling upheld the clause for all U.S.-born children, Ngai said, and there have been no successful
challenges to the clause since.
In the 1930s, Balderrama said, officials skirted the issue of birthright citizenship by saying they
did not want to break up families.
“But they did break up families and many children never saw their parents again,” said Balderrama,
co-author of a book about Mexican repatriation in the 1930s with the late historian Raymond Rodriguez, who testified before
a California state committee about seeing his father for the last time at age 10, before the father left for Mexico.
That legacy lingers in songs, often played on Spanish-language radio stations, that allude to mass deportations
and separation of loved ones, said Lilia Soto, an American studies professor at the University of Wyoming.
For example, the lyrics to “Ice El Hielo,” by the Los Angeles-band La Santa Cecilia, speak
of a community afraid that federal agents about to arrive and launch deportations raids at any moment. The ballad “Volver,
Volver,” sung by Mexican ranchera performer Vicente “Chente” Fernandez, speaks of someone vowing to return
to a lover despite all obstacles.
“They’re about families being apart,” Soto said. “The lyrics are all indirectly
linked to this past.”
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