Psychological War and Voluntary Repatriation
The government's unemployment policy was fueled by the nationwide anti-immigrant hysteria that viewed all immigrants as illegal. From 1929 to 1944, over two million U.S. citizens and legal residents of Mexican ancestry were repatriated to Mexico. In California alone, approximately 400,000 citizens and residents were deported to Mexico.24 Despite the economic rhetoric that repatriation was necessary for the preservation of jobs for native-born citizens, roughly sixty per cent of those repatriated to Mexico were citizens born in the United States. The inevitable conclusion is that 1.2 million U.S. citizens were denied their constitutional rights and forced to repatriate through intimidation or illegal deportation. According to California Senate Bill 670, passed in 2005, massive raids were conducted throughout the state in an effort to coerce thousands of residents to leave through "threats and acts of violence."25 Thousands of Mexicans coerced into voluntary repatriation had their property seized by the government to be sold as payment for transportation expenses.26
Following the appointment of William N. Doak as Secretary of Labor on December 9, 1930, local government officials in Los Angeles embraced his model of deportation and the opportunity to deport their own undesirable immigrants. Though both the federal and local governments publicly defined undesirables as criminals, the implementation of deportation raids proved that the programs were based almost exclusively on race.
In January 1931, newly appointed Coordinator of the Los Angeles Citizen's Relief Committee Charles P. Visel, wired National Coordinator of President Hoover's Emergency Committee for Employment (PECE), Colonel Arthur M. Woods, telling him that he wanted to use the sheriff and police offices to deport the 20,000 to 25,000 "illegal immigrants" he calculated were in Southern California.27 Colonel Wood responded that, "[t]here is every willingness to act at this end of the line... to act thoroughly and promptly." Visel immediately wired Secretary of Labor Doak urging him to send agents to "create a psychological gesture." It was Visel's plan to scare immigrants into voluntarily repatriating by creating a highly visible campaign "This apparent activity," Visel wired Doak, "will have [sic] tendency to scare many thousand alien deportables [sic] out of this district which is the result desired."28
Walter E. Carr, the Los Angeles District Immigration Director, agreed with Visel that fear would drive out the immigrants, stating that "a large number of these aliens, actuated by guilty self-consciousness, would move south and over the line of their own accord, particularly if stimulated by a few arrests under the Deportation Act."29 It is important to note that the other members of Visel's Los Angeles Citizen's Relief Committee included "Mayor John C. Porter, County Supervisor Frank L. Shaw, Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler, [and] Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce President John C. Austin."30 The presence of Harry Chandler as publisher of the Los Angeles Times is especially important given Visel and Carr's plan to utilize a highly publicized program to achieve the "voluntary" deportations.
Following the first massive raid in El Monte on February 13, 1931, the Los Angeles Times reported: "Launching of the first big drive to rid Los Angeles County of undesirable aliens illegally living here, thirteen men have been taken into custody by Sheriff Traeger's men and agents of the federal government."31The article continued by stating that "[n]ightly raids on suspected quarters are to be continued until Traeger and the Federal government are satisfied all parts of the county offering a haven for unwanted foreigners have been uncovered."32 Since Mexicans were the largest group of aliens in Los Angeles County, it is likely that they would recognize the undesirables as themselves. With promises of continued raids and clearly anti-immigrant tone, the Times article helped established the desired climate of fear.
If the tone and language of the February 15th Los Angeles Times article had not sufficiently warned the Mexican American community that the raids were aimed at them, the closing of the article certainly left no doubt. "Eight of the suspects were arrested... They described themselves as Manuel Garcia, 22; Emiliano Contreras, 21; Thomas Garcia, 35; Jose Lara, 30; Profirio Arrendondo, 21; Cosme Mesa, 28; Rafael Morales, 24, and Juan Barajas, 28, all said to be Mexicans."33 There were a total of 13 Mexicans arrested, and out that of the 13 Mexicans arrested, only one had a criminal record. The others were arrested for failure to prove legal residency, exposing the true definition of undesirable to mean Mexican.
The El Monte raid was only the beginning of the raids targeting Mexicans for deportation, and only the beginning of Charles P. Visel and Walter E. Carr's "psychological" campaign to force them out. By June 1931, the Bureau of Immigration in Carr's jurisdiction had investigated 24,159 Mexicans. Of the nearly twenty five thousand interviewed, only 2,172 warrants had been issued and only about 1,300 had actually been deported.34 Though only five per cent of the immigrants interviewed by the Bureau of Immigration had been deported, the psychological effect on the other ninety five per cent resulted in a climate of hysteria in the Mexican American community.
In July 1931, attorney Joseph Scott called on the county for a "robust effort to clarify the atmosphere from suspicion or distrust which has grown out of various affiliated movements to harass California Mexicans and cause them to quit the country."35 By July, it was estimated that forty thousand Mexicans had left Southern California, and the Mexican consul estimated a continued emigration of one hundred fifty to two hundred per week. 36 The explanation for this mass exodus, according to Scott, was the climate of fear caused by the deportation campaigns that began in January. Scott argued that while the deportations originally targeted illegal aliens, "behind the activity there was much talk about 'psychological strokes' at just the right time and in just the right way to 'scare' many Mexicans into leaving on the theory that their jobs would be filled by jobless men of other American stock."37
James Batten, Executive Director of the Inter-American Foundation (created in 1929 to advance cultural relations between North and South America), cited what he viewed as a "war on law-abiding aliens,"38 and called for a halt to the racist propaganda that had created "an epidemic of hysteria against aliens."39 Though Batten was concerned largely with the loss of agricultural laborers, he did recognize the injustices being done to legal residents of the United States. In particular, Batten was appalled that many of the children leaving the country were American citizens by birth and forced to leave due the anti-immigrant hysteria and climate of fear perpetuated by the deportation raids. Batten argued that the deportation activities were "scaring bona fide residents out of the country."40 According to the Director of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Guy Marion, only 21, 598 of the more than one hundred thousand Mexicans living in Los Angeles were born in Mexico.41
The psychological war waged against Mexicans in California resulted in, as one reporter framed it, "one of the greatest migrations of a single nationality in modern times."42 Another reporter declared that it had been "the most remarkable exodus of a people since the Huguenot hegira in the sixteenth century."43 Though local government officials attempted to assure the Mexican government that they were not being unfairly targeted, suspicion continued to grow in Mexico that Mexican Americans were the victims of economic discrimination. According to Rafael De La Colina of the Mexican Consul, "[p]ressed with economic adversity, stirred with fear at recent renewed activities of immigration authorities and perplexed by what they regarded as anti-Mexican sentiment, the Mexicans have been leaving Southern California in amazing numbers."44 By the spring of 1931, Mexicans were leaving Southern California at a rate of 10,000 per month - a number that overwhelmingly eclipsed the number of Mexicans being officially deported.
When Rafael De La Colina issued his statement in April 1931, he estimated that over 35,000 Mexicans had already left Southern California, and estimated that between 60,000 to 75,000 would leave by midsummer. De La Colina stated that the anti-Mexican sentiment and "arrests by the immigration agents [had] terrified Mexicans." The deportation raids were not the only method used to intimidate Mexican Americans. In 1931, the anti-Mexican efforts took aim directly at Mexican children.
In 1931, Assemblymen George R. Bliss of Santa Barbara introduced the famous Bliss Bill, which attempted to segregate education for Chinese, Japanese, and Mexican children. As one witness of the anti-Mexican legislation commented, "[o]ne cannot blame [the Mexican] from feeling the discrimination when it is aimed at his children."45 In response to the Bliss Bill, Los Angeles City Superintendent of Schools Bouelle, Dr. Susan M. Dorsey (former superintendent), and well-known education J.L. Van Norman - Chairman of the Los Angeles Board of Education - railed against the bill as counter to the fundamental purpose of public education.46 What was especially telling about the Bliss Bill is it aimed to make segregation applicable to "children of any degree of Mexican ancestry, including those American born."47
Despite repeated public assurances that the immigration raids were targeting illegal aliens, anti-Mexican rhetoric, policies, legislation, and persecution demonstrated that the raids were targeting Mexicans regardless of legal status. In the face of such overwhelming intimidation, Mexicans fled America in unprecedented numbers at the same time that immigration from Mexico hit historic lows.
24"The Apology Act for the 1930s Mexican Repatriation Program" SB 670
(Feb. 22, 2005) Introduced by Joseph Dunn (D-Garden Grove) .25 Ibid.26 Ibid.27 Abraham Hoffman, "Stimulus to Repatriation: The 1931 Federal Deportation Drive ad the Los Angeles Mexican Community" The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 42, No. 2 (May, 1973), 207.28 Ibid. 208.29 Ibid., 209.30 Ibid., 207.31 "Fugitive Aliens Seized in Drive," Los Angeles Times, Feb 15, 1931.32 Ibid.33 Ibid.34 "Lawyers Score Alien Round-Up,"Los Angeles Times, Jul 21, 1931.35 "Attorney Raps Mexican Scare," Los Angeles Times, Jun 11, 1931.36 Ibid.37 Ibid.38 "Mexican Labor Scare Rapped," Los Angeles Times, Jun 8, 1931.39 Ibid.40 Ibid.41 "Attorney Raps Mexican Scare," Los Angeles Times, Jun 11, 1931.42 "Great Migration Back to Mexico Under Way," Los Angeles Times, Apr 1, 1931.43 "Chamber Gives Mexico Pledge," Los Angeles Times, Jun 4, 1931.44 "Great Migration Back to Mexico Under Way," Los Angeles Times, Apr 1, 1931.45 Ibid.46 "More Mexican Baiting," Los Angeles Times, Apr 4, 1931.47 Ibid.
©2009 Craig S. Frame
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