Trump’s policies reminiscent of Operation Wetback

September 9, 2018 GMT

I was having breakfast one early morning with a friend, who just completed his computer science degree. He was enthusiastic about his field of study and bragged about the successful opportunities awaiting in the burgeoning field of apps, smart phones, and driverless cars. We debated our career choices when he facetiously ridiculed my choice of study — history.

“Why history?” he asked. “What is so interesting about studying what is dead and long gone?”

It’s a common question asked by people about my profession. What my technocratic friend (and others like-minded) do not understand is that the dead sometimes have a habit of resurrecting from the ashes of the past. In fact, Spanish philosopher, George Santayana, said it best, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”


We are beginning to see resurgent practices of the past in the Trump administration’s immigration policy. Trump’s America has run rampant, with ICE agents arresting, detaining, and separating immigrant families from their children — literally throwing them in cages. The architect of Trump’s tactics has been linked to his senior policy advisor, Stephen Miller.

According to an article in The Atlantic Monthly by McKay Coppins, — titled “The Outrage Over Family Separation is Exactly What Stephen Miller Wants” — “He is, by all accounts, an avowed restrictionist, and he likely believes that separating children from their parents at the border will deter future illegal immigration.”

Trump’s reign of terror on immigrants has recently spilled over and fallen onto the laps of law-abiding U.S. citizens. Mexican Americans living on the Texas border are reportedly being denied U.S. passports and are accused of fraud. Some are entering into deportation proceedings, according to a report by Texas Public Radio. The State Department has created a list of suspicious people by focusing on their birth certificates, explicitly those who were delivered by midwives.

Among the victims, ironically, are former border patrol agents and military veterans, including one from San Antonio.

The actions taken by Trump and his lackeys regarding the social status of Latinos in this country, is reminiscent of the treatment of Mexican-Americans in Texas during the 1950s. The classification of Mexican Americans as second-class citizens dates to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in 1848. After incorporation into the United States, Anglo-Americans, including in Texas, had to deal with what they deemed as “The Mexican Problem.”


Much of this xenophobia increased after World War II, when Bracero workers, who came to the fields to pick crops, decided to stay after the war. Politicians and private businesses practiced a variety of tactics steeped in “southern hospitality,” including segregation, violence, and ultimately, deportation.

It was a dark period, the tactics approved by a man nicknamed “Ike” — President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The militarization of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) under President Eisenhower led to “Operation Wetback,” an effective, yet highly illegal, operation of rounding up brown people suspected of being in the country illegally.

Unfortunately, many were deported without proper due process — Sheriff Joe Arpaio style.

According to Rodolfo Acuña’s “Occupied America,” the infamous term was coined by Lt. Gen. Joseph M. Swing, a classmate of Eisenhower at West Point in 1911, who was appointed INS Commissioner. Swing was determined to flush out every Mexican he deemed suspicious of entering the country illegally, even proposing building a 150-mile long fence — among the inspirations for Trump’s border wall. Illegal searches and seizures were committed on brown people along the border, including those born and raised in the United States.

While Trump’s praise of the program during the 2015 primaries was despicable, what is more despicable is that more people are not outraged.

How would Americans react if Trump proposed bringing back Jim Crow segregation?

Maybe history must be remembered lest it repeat itself to the detriment of the less powerful.

Alfredo Torres, Jr. is an independent historian, working on a book on the Texas Good Neighbor Commission.