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Donald Trump has mostly avoided answering any questions about how he would deport 11 million immigrants from the US — we tried to explain his plan in detail here — but now he’s recently made it clear he intends to model it after one of the darkest moments in modern American history.
In a recent interview with CBS News, the leading Republican candidate for President compared his plan to President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1954 mass deportation round-up that expelled one million immigrants and some of their families to Mexico, a plan known by the horribly offensive name, “Operation Wetback.”
Trump, of course, didn’t dare mention Eisenhower’s program by name during the televised interview, but the references were crystal clear. From “Donald Trump’s ‘humane’ 1950s model for deportation, ‘Operation Wetback’, was anything but,” in the Washington Post today:
“We’re rounding them up in a very humane way, a very nice way,” Trump said, as he has expressed before.
“What does that roundup look like to you?” [CBS’s Scott] Pelley pressed. “How does it work? Are you going to have cops going door-to-door?”
Trump interjected: “Did you like Eisenhower? Did you like Dwight Eisenhower as a president at all?”
“He did this,” the presidential candidate said. “He did this in the 1950s with over a million people, and a lot of people don’t know that…and it worked.”
According to WaPo, Eisenhower’s Operation Wetback not only rounded up one million immigrants from their homes, workplaces, and communities for deportation, but also an unknown number of U.S. citizens, too, something Trump plans to mimic if he becomes President.
According to historians, trains and ships were used to intentionally deport immigrants “deep into the interior” of Mexico, in order to discourage them from returning to the United States and the families they oftentimes left behind.
Some immigrants, facing a life in exile, jumped off their deportation ships in desperation and drowned. Dozens more were left to perish from exhaustion, dehydration, and heat stroke in the scorching Mexican desert and other remote areas:
In Mexicali, Mexico, temperatures can reach 125 degrees as heat envelops an arid desert. Without a body of water nearby to moderate the climate, the heavy sun is relentless — and deadly.
During the summer of 1955, this is where hundreds of thousands of Mexicans were “dumped” after being discovered as migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
Unloaded from buses and trucks carrying several times their capacity, the deportees stumbled into the Mexicali streets with few possessions and no way of getting home.
This was strategic: the more obscure the destination within the Mexican interior, the less opportunities they would have to return to America. But the tactic also proved to be dangerous, as the migrants were left without resources to survive.
After one such round-up and transfer in July, 88 people died from heat stroke.
At another drop-off point in Nuevo Laredo, the migrants were “brought like cows” into the desert.
“[A] congressional investigation likened one vessel (where a riot took place on board) to an ‘18th century slave ship’ and a ‘penal hell ship,’” said historian Mae Ngai, according to the Washington Post.
Trump’s plan, already mocked as so “ugly and unworkable even the anti-immigrant movement has disavowed this radical notion” by Frank Sharry, is also earning the ire of scholars and legal experts, who doubt that mass-deporting a number of people ten times the size of “Operation Wetback” could in any way be “very humane, very nice.”
“Like usual, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Rodolfo Acuña, professor emeritus of Chicano studies at California State University, Northridge, told The Huffington Post. “It’s ridiculous.”
Acuña noted that then-Attorney General Herbert Brownell, one of the pioneers of the ramping up of border security that accompanied “Operation Wetback,” had once suggested that killing people who crossed into the United States illegally might act as a deterrent.
“Brownell said, ‘Just give them some live ammo, let them shoot a few people. Then everyone will be scared and they won’t come across the border,’” Acuña said. “Really humane.”
“In addition to violating the civil liberties of American citizens via questionable expulsions, ‘Operation Wetback’ violated the human rights of the people being deported,” writes Gilbert Paul Carrasco, a professor of law who focuses on civil rights.
“Deportations were characterized by disrespect, rudeness, and intimidation. Reports even mentioned immigration officers ‘collecting fares’ from persons being deported.”
So much for “humane.” But, Trump has never really been too good when it comes to the facts, really.
At least one group seems to be giving Trump’s sequel to “Operation Wetback” the thumbs up. VDARE, which according to the Southern Poverty Law Center “regularly publishes articles by prominent white nationalists, race scientists and anti-Semites,” noted that “‘Operation Wetback’ worked beautifully,” and that “to do Operation Wetback, Eisenhower didn’t need to pass any laws. Neither would Trump.”