Wednesday, February 22, 2012

LA County Apologizes for 1930s Repatriation

Some 80 years ago, tens of thousands of Mexicans and Mexican Americans living in L.A. County were forced aboard trains and taken to Mexico. On Tuesday, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors formally -- and finally -- apologized. “L.A. was very much part of these official roundups,” said Supervisor Gloria Molina. Scholars estimate that more than 60% og thr 1-2 million "repatriated" ewre U.S. citizens. In a motion to the county board, Molina said there were massive clandestine raids that often separated families. “Families were forced to abandon, or were defrauded of, personal and real property, which often was sold by local authorities as ‘payment’ for the transportation expenses incurred in their removal.”

Politicians, including California Senator Joe Dunn (now the Executive Director of the State Bar of California), and legal advocates launched a campaign in 2003 to win a formal apology and reparations. And in 2005, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill apologizing to the estimated 400,000 U.S. citizens and legal residents who were illegally deported to Mexico between 1929 and 1944.

In 2005, I published "The Forgotten `Repatriation' of Persons of Mexican Ancestry and Lessons for the `War on Terror,'" which I initially delivered as a lecture at Pace Law School:

My remarks, titled “The Forgotten ‘Repatriation’ of Persons of Mexican Ancestry and Lessons for the ‘War on Terror,’” begin 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. This is true despite the fact that the number of repatriates dwarfed by about tenfold the number of persons of Japanese ancestry who were interned by the United States government during World War II. Unfortunately, the lack of awareness of the repatriation is 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 the government to act. A discrete and insular minority, the most available and vulnerable target, suffered from the government’s policy choice.

The tragedy of the Mexican repatriation is well worth remembering as the United States continues to wage 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 criticizing 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 governmental policies adopted in both incidents. 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 practices and policies in the “war on terror.”

Here is Leslie Berestein' Rojas's take on the LA County apology.


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