The Mexican Repatriation Act

At every full collective gathering we acknowledge that we live in a society founded on stolen land and stolen lives. Someone researches and presents a relevant topic and then we take a moment of silence to reflect. We share the research here for others as well.

By Kim

After Trump recently made an announcement that he will seek an end to birthright citizenship through an executive order, many people took to social media to point out that Trump has no such power as birthright citizenship, which grants citizenship to those born on U.S. soil even if their parents are not citizens themselves, is protected by the 14th Amendment. What many people fail to realize is that, unsurprisingly, the United States has a racist history of deporting people with claims to birthright citizenship.

The Mexican Repatriation Act was a mass deportation of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans between 1929 and 1936. Although there were multiple waves of immigration before due to a number of factors, including the building of a railway system between Mexico and the Southwest U.S., increased demands for agricultural labor, and people fleeing from violence of the Mexican Civil War, as well as waves of deportation back to Mexico tied to economic downturns and anti-immigrant sentiments, immigration laws were not strictly enforced until the establishment of the U.S. Border Patrol in 1924. Many U.S. employers sought Mexican labor for jobs in industry, railroads, meatpacking, steel mills, and agriculture and encouraged emigration for their benefit, but because of the lax immigration laws before the mid-to-late 1920’s, many citizens, legal residents, and immigrants did not have official documentation to prove their citizenship or had lost their paperwork. A lot of them also did not apply for citizenship as they were well aware that Mexicans were considered “racially inferior” and knew they would not be socially accepted even with legal citizenship.

Even before the stock market crash, many Americans called for deportations due to “job competition and the burden and cost of public assistance.” Following the stock market crash of 1929, nationalist sentiments grew and President Hoover’s call for deportations led to a large number of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans being deported. Because records were not well-kept, an estimated number of 400,000 to 2 million people were “repatriated” between 1929 and 1937, with a peak of about 138,000 in 1931 and a total estimate of 1/3 of all Mexicans in the U.S. deported between 1931-1934. An estimated 60% of those deported were birthright citizens. The 1930 Census reported 1.3 million Mexicans in the US, but this number is believed to be unreliable as some deportations had already begun, immigrants without documentation were not counted, and the census attempted to use racial concepts that did not consider how Spanish-speakers in the Southwest defined their own identities.

The federal government worked with local governments to coordinate deportations through a combination of federal actions that created a climate of fear along with local activities that encouraged repatriation through a combination of “lure, persuasion, and coercion.” Some also sought to return to Mexico as they were usually the first ones to be laid off following the stock market crash and had to endure endemic harassment from growing national anti-immigrant hostility, while new employment laws made it difficult for non-citizens to get hired and made it easier for employers to discriminate against Mexicans and Latinx people in general.

There is a lot more that can be said about the reasons the U.S. used to justify these deportations, the scope of the impact this “unconstitutional” act had on immigrants simply searching for a better life, and the racism behind it all, but this serves as a harsh reminder that fascism and white supremacy has no consideration for legal boundaries beyond what helps to legitimize it as a government. The Trump regime has made it clear that it does not care for the technicalities and legalities behind its agenda and planned ethnic cleansing and our focus must be on the communities being targeted and affected. It’s a fight that cannot end until the most oppressed is liberated.

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