TIME FOR ‘OPERATION WETBACK’: America’s Scrambled Immigration History

Okay, before the cries of “racism” start, anyone who reads my columns from time to time knows that Operation Wetback was a U.S. government sanctioned program in 1954 during the Eisenhower administration, designed to rid the country of illegal aliens, mostly Mexicans.  It had a certain degree of success, mainly because at that time we had a president with an actual backbone.

Now, we don’t even have a cohesive immigration policy of any sort.  No one really knows how many illegals are here, but estimates put the number at 12 million on the low side, and possibly as high as 20 million.  It’s also estimated that at least 8,000 illegals enter the country every day.

This is Part One of this column, in which I want to offer a very brief look at our immigration policy through the years.  And I do mean brief.  The history of U.S. immigration policy, and  it’s failures, is a library unto itself.

Beginning in 1798, right after we became the U. S. A., Congress made the first attempts at dealing with immigration.  The Naturalization Act extended time required for citizenship to 14 years. It was repealed in 1803.

The Alien Friends Act gave the president the authority to deport those considered “dangerous to the peace and safety of the U.S.”.  It had a two year expiration date.  The Alien Enemies Act gave authority to the president to deport aliens if their home country was at war with the U. S.  This law is still intact today.

Starting in the late 1800s, several immigration laws were passed aimed solely at Asians; in particular, Chinese immigrants.

These include The Chinese  Exclusion Act of 1882, and the case of U.S. v. Wong King Ark, also known as the fictitious papers act.  Basically, it allowed that “…a child born in the U.S. of parents of Chinese descent, who, at the time of his birth, are subjects of the Emperor of China, but have a permanent domicile…in the U.S., are carrying on business…and not employed in any diplomatic or official capacity…becomes at the time of his birth a citizen of the U.S…..”

As a consequence, Chinese immigrants were able to enter the U. S. illegally by claiming they were born in California after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed all of the birth and citizenship records for the city.  Papers for fictitious children were sold in China, allowing Chinese to immigrate despite applicable laws. This involves the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which we’ll look at later.

In the 20th Century, starting in 1921 with the Emergency Quota Act, attempts were begun to limit immigration.  This particular Act limited the number of immigrants from any country to 3% already here, as per the 1910 census.

The 1930s saw the beginning of a mass influx of Mexicans.  By the end of WWII, mass deportations began. Because of this, in 1952, the Immigration And Nationality Act set strict quotas for aliens with needed skills only.

Also in the 1950s, in ’53 there was a Supreme Court ruling in the case of Kwong Hai Chew v. Colding stating that our Bill of rights is “a futile authority for the alien seeking admission fro the first time”; and there was the aforementioned Operation Wetback in 1954.

One of the most controversial and ultimately damaging immigration policies was the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.  Also called The Hart-Cellar Act, this abolished the nation quota immigration system from the 1920s.  It replaced it with a system based and skills and family relationships.  It was aimed at Central and South American countries, as well as some African nations.  Previous immigration policy favored Western Europeans over others.

When President Johnson signed the bill, he called it “…not a revolutionary bill.  It does not affect the lives of millions.”   One of the main sponsors of the bill, Sen. Ted Kennedy,  went on to continually reassure the country that it would not affect the country’s demographic mix in any way.

Things weren’t much better under Republican leadership, though.  The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, under President Reagan, provided amnesty for illegals already here.  Under  President George W. Bush, the 2005 Real ID Act was signed, which allowed for use of IDs by illegals, aimed for national standards for driver licenses, and cleared the way for building a border barrier, or fence.  But by 2006, Bush allowed for a form of amnesty, which he called “a path to citizenship.”

So, what we’re seeing with even this brief, very abbreviated look at our immigration laws, is a total lack of cohesiveness and consistency, by both political parties.  Immigration has been more of a political foot ball than anything else.  With the current election here again, don’t expect that to change.  And this is why it’s now more important than ever to not allow this issue to sit on the back burner.

As I said at the beginning,  this is part one.  In part two, I want to look at the 14th Amendment and its impact on immigration policy.  I also want to offer some thoughts on possible solutions.

I’d like to close with a thought from the late Paul Harvey.  Years ago during one of his famous radio broadcast commentaries, Mr. Harvey said this in regard to immigration. (Paraphrased here.) “America has always been considered the world’s life boat.  Funny thing about life boats, though.  They’re only so big.  They only hold so many people.  If they get overloaded, they’ll go down…and take everyone with them.”

http://centralpedia.wikispaces.com/Illegal+Immigration?responseToken=043a0491532f f7a64a4fba6023678ae8f

Share if you think we need a fresh, serious effort to deal with illegal aliens here in the USA.

About the author: John DeGroff

John DeGroff is the original bass player for the Christian rock band Petra. He currently plays for the band GHF which is comprised of other original members from Petra. DeGroff has extensive experience as a freelance music journalist and newspaper reporter as well as an on-line music reviewer. He is a member of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and lives in Warsaw, Indiana where he is employed as a care giver for mentally challenged adults.

View all articles by John DeGroff

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