A. Racial Animus Against Mexican Migrants Was Still Pervasive In The Lead-Up To The McCarran-Walter Act of 1952

The history of the years leading up to the 1952 reenactment makes clear that racial animus against Mexicans remained a driving force motivating immigration policy throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

*18 As many United States citizens joined the armed services in the early 1940s, southwestern farmers faced domestic labor shortages. Kelly Lytle Hernández, The Crimes and Consequences of Illegal Immigration: A Cross-Border Examination of Operation Wetback, 1943 to 1954, 37 W. Hist. Q. 421, 424 (2006) (Crimes and Consequences); Mae M. Ngai, Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America 135-137 (2004). In fact, in 1942 the U.S. Employment Service officially certified that an extra 6,000 contract laborers were required to meet labor demands. Ngai 137. The shortage would lead to the Bracero Program, a series of agreements between the United States and Mexican governments that enabled the migration of short-term Mexican contract laborers, known as braceros, into and out of the United States. Crimes and Consequences 423.

The federal government's embrace of foreign contract labor represented “a momentous break with past policy and practice,” Ngai 137, insofar as it adopted a practice previously rejected as inconsistent with the prohibition on slavery. Contract labor in the wake of the Civil War had generally been perceived as “unambiguously unfree” and hence, “like slavery,” antithetical to the voluntary labor “upon which democracy depended.” Id. at 137-138. As a result, foreign contract labor had been outlawed in the mainland United States since 1885. In fact, it had either been abolished or never instituted in the first place in territories like Hawai'i, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico as they came under American colonial rule in the late nine-teenth century. Ibid.

The fact that “decades later, and in the mainland United States, Americans would turn to a colonial labor practice that they had rejected” shows how “Mexican workers in the Southwest and California were racialized as a foreign people, an ‘alien race’ not legitimately present *19 or intended for inclusion in the polity.” Ngai 138. That Mexican workers were recruited for an institution deemed unconscionable for others is an “expression of the legacies of slavery and conquest.” Ibid.

Nevertheless, the Bracero Program found many willing participants in Mexico. The combination of land privatization, mechanization, the export orientation of agricultural production and food shortages compelled rural Mexican laborers to seek survival through migration. Crimes and Consequences 424-425.

At the same time, other dynamics conspired to lead to a separate spike in unauthorized immigration to the United States. Crimes and Consequences 425; Ngai 146. First, many Mexicans did not meet the requirements of the Bracero Program, which only accepted young, healthy men with agricultural experience. Crimes and Consequences 426. Second, some states that enforced racial segregation were excluded from the Bracero Program based on Mexico's objection to race discrimination against Mexican workers. Ngai 147. As a result, Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri growers who became “ineligible to use braceros [] increasingly resorted to illegal labor during the 1940s.” Ibid. Third, some braceros deserted their contracts because of inhumane work conditions that violated the terms of the Bracero Program. Such violations included severe underpayment, illegal deductions, threats, mistreatment, and serious safety risks. Id. at 137-146. And if they deserted their contracts but did not depart from the United States, the braceros would lose their immigration status. Id. at 147.

From Mexico's perspective, the migration of young laborers across its northern border both exposed the failure of the Mexican Revolution to provide economic stability for its citizens and also drained the country of its own cheap labor supply. Crimes and Consequences 425-426. *20 Mexican officials convened meetings with a host of U.S. government agencies and demanded heightened border control in exchange for facilitating authorized immigration through the Bracero Program. They requested, among other things, that the United States return to Mexico anyone who had crossed illegally. Id. at 427. In 1944, the United States obliged. Id. at 428.

As a result of these bilateral discussions, United States immigration and deportation policies became focused on Mexico and the federal government undertook an “intensive drive on Mexican aliens.” Crimes and Consequences 428. The resulting shift of resources and personnel ultimately culminated in “Operation Wetback,” a harsh immigration enforcement campaign targeting unauthorized Mexican immigrants whose legacy reverberates to this day. See Crimes and Consequences 421; Ngai 155-160; Part II.C, infra.

Before 1943, the majority of Border Patrol officers worked along the northern, rather than southern, border. Crimes and Consequences 427. But Border Patrol now committed to strengthening its presence along the Mexican border by “filling all existing vacancies and detailing approximately 150 Patrol Inspectors from other areas” to the southern border. The number of inspectors working in the south doubled by year end. Ibid.

The United States and Mexico also worked in tandem to deploy trains and trucks to deport Mexican immigrants to the interior of Mexico to ensure these immigrants could not easily return to the United States. Crimes and Consequences 429-430. Reports of the deportations described inhumane conditions and “indescribable scenes of human misery and tragedy.” Id. at 432-433.

Additionally, in 1945, INS and the Border Patrol began construction on fencing designed to compel undocumented immigrants to enter the United States through *21 desert lands and mountains that were extremely dangerous to cross. Crimes and Consequences 438-439. One segment of the fence was removed from a demobilized WWII internment camp for Japanese American families to be planted along the U.S.-Mexico border. See Migra! 131.

At the same time that the U.S. government was deploying these on-the-ground measures, national sentiment both inside and outside of government coalesced around a stereotype of the “wetback” “as a dangerous and criminal social pathogen [that] fed the general racial stereotype ‘Mexican.’ ” Ngai 149. Within INS, a “conventional view” took hold “that illegal aliens were by definition criminal” because once “the ‘wetback’ starts out by violating a law * * * it is easier and sometimes appears even more necessary for him to break other laws.” Ibid.

Gradually, any effort to distinguish between the supposed characteristics of unauthorized entrants and the local population of Mexican descent was lost. An early 1950s sociological study revealed that these groups were “lumped together as ‘Mexicans' and the characteristics that are observed among the wetbacks are by extension assigned to the local people.” Ngai 149 (quoting Lyle Saunders & Olen Leonard, The Wetback in the Lower Rio Grande Valley 70 (1951)).

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee convened a subcommittee to conduct a comprehensive study of the nation's immigration policy. It would culminate in the passage of the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952. Ngai 237.

The work of the subcommittee was heavily influenced by the views of Senator Pat McCarran, a so-called “Cold War warrior.” Ngai 237. Under his leadership, the subcommittee produced a report that concluded that “the Communist movement in the United States is an alien *22 movement, sustained, augmented, and controlled by European Communists and the Soviet Union.” Ibid. Senator McCarran viewed the 1952 Act as a necessary tool to preserve “this Nation, the last hope of Western civilization” against efforts (by foreigners) to “overrun, pervert[], contaminate[], or detroy[]” it. Ibid.