President Trump has invoked President Dwight Eisenhower when explaining his administration’s programs that take on the crises of illegal immigration: “Dwight Eisenhower, was a great president – people liked him. He moved 1.5 million illegal immigrants out of this country – moved them just beyond the border. They came back. He moved them again beyond the border, they came back. He didn’t like it. He moved them way south and they never came back.”
The economy of 60 years ago is not what it is today. The country was downshifting from World War II arms spending and faced a huge influx of returning veterans seeking jobs. To keep the nation’s fiscal house in order, President Eisenhower focused on creating a balanced federal budget.
As part of Ike’s economic equations, he knew that illegal immigration was an important factor.
On March 28, 1951, the New York Times observed (using what is now politically incorrect lingo): “The rise in illegal border-crossing by Mexican ‘wetbacks,’ to a current rate of more than 1,000,000 cases a year has been accompanied by a curious relaxation in ethical standards extending all the way from the farmer-exploiters of this contraband labor to the highest levels of the Federal Government.”
Two months later, the Los Angeles Times reported that 21,000 Mexican nationals had “flooded across the Mexican border into California during April” and complained about the overworked, understaffed border patrolmen and “the endless wave of line jumpers, unprecedented in the nation’s history.”
During World War II, with so many Americans in the armed services, Mexicans illegally (and legally) entered the U.S. to take advantage of employment opportunities, especially as agricultural laborers. The federal government had created the Bracero program (Spanish for “manual laborer”), which brought Mexicans into the United States to fill jobs that soldiers had left behind. Those foreign workers were in the U.S. legally, but the government often looked the other way when companies illegally brought more cheap labor over the border.
By 1945, there were some two million illegal aliens living in California, Arizona, and Texas. This massive underground workforce had a devastating impact on the wages of American workers and returning war veterans looking for jobs.
Herbert Brownell, Eisenhower’s first attorney general, said in an interview that the president had a sense of urgency about illegal immigration when he took office. John Dillin, writing for the Christian Science Monitor, told Brownell’s story:
America was faced with a breakdown in law enforcement on a very large scale,’ Mr. Brownell said. ‘Hundreds of thousands were coming in from Mexico [every year] without restraint. Although an on-and-off guest-worker program for Mexicans was operating at the time, farmers and ranchers in the Southwest had become dependent on an additional low-cost, docile, illegal labor force of up to three million mostly Mexican, laborers.
Eisenhower, concerned about all the tangential issues due to the influx of illegal aliens, including corruption that resulted from the profits of the underground labor market, took decisive action. First, he canceled the Bracero agreement and then appointed General Joseph “Jumpin’ Joe” Swing, who commanded the 11th Airborne Division during the campaign to liberate the Philippines, to head the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
However, like today, there was an open borders lobby at work: agribusiness and other employers of unskilled labor gained the favor of influential politicians, including Senators Lyndon Johnson of Texas and Nevada’s Pat McCarran, who led the fight against strong border enforcement on Capitol Hill.
Today, the open borders lobby is more pervasive: for example, the National Immigration Forum’s chairman is John Gay of the National Restaurant Association, and that group’s board members include Craig Regelbrugge, representing the American Nursery and Landscape Association, and Randal K. Johnson of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – all special interests in search of cheap labor. Amnesty advocates also include Senator Lindsey Graham, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
General Swing’s close connections to President Eisenhower protected him and the Border Patrol from meddling by powerful political and corporate interests. With the close cooperation of the Eisenhower Justice Department, Swing launched what was popularly known as “Operation Wetback.”
With only 1,075 Border Patrol agents, supported by municipal, county, state, and the military, a comprehensive operation to identify and apprehend all illegal immigrants was undertaken.
According to the Texas Historical Association, on the first day of the operation 4,800 illegal aliens were apprehended. The roundup began in California and Arizona because there was less political resistance. Some 750 agents set a goal of 1,000 arrests a day, but in less than two weeks over 50,000 aliens were caught in the two states. Another 488,000 had fled the country.
Unlike the Eisenhower era, protecting the 1,954-mile Mexico-U.S. border has now become more than an economic issue – it is key to the war on terrorism. Retired Admiral James Lyons, who was senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations, has observed: “Fixing our porous borders is one of combating the threat of terrorism that America faces. In the various efforts to reform the U.S. immigration system, often overlooked in the debate is its impact on national security.”
President Eisenhower’s initiatives were designed to ensure Mexicans here illegally caught in Operation Wetback were not released at the border, where they could easily re-enter the U.S. The policy was to hire buses and trains to take illegal aliens deep within Mexico before being set free. Tens of thousands more were put aboard two hired ships which ferried the aliens to Vera Cruz, Mexico, more than 500 miles south.
Pundit Pat Buchanan summed up the Eisenhower immigration policy this way:
During President Eisenhower’s first term, 60 years ago, the U.S. faced an invasion across its southern border. Illegal aliens had been coming since World War II. But, suddenly, the number was over one million. Crime was rising in Texas. The illegals were taking the jobs of U.S. farm workers … Eisenhower was a no-nonsense president … as for the deportation of the Mexicans, they had broken in, they did not belong here, and they were going back. End of discussion.
The 1950s was a period of economic expansion in the United States, and in the first two years of the Trump era, the economy is once again red hot. President Trump, just like President Eisenhower, understands that part of the negative impact of illegal aliens is economic. In a study examined by the Washington Examiner, the paper concluded, “The swelling population of illegal immigrants is costing American taxpayers $135 billion a year, the highest ever, driven by free medical care, education and a huge law enforcement bill.” Just like Ike, Trump’s tackling the issue head-on.