The year 1847 was a unique year for emigration. Famine in Ireland leads the list of reasons for the increase in the number of emigrants in that year. However, if one reads newspapers of the day other facts soon come to light.
There are reports of vessels leaving various parts of the United States and Canada (this will be used to describe New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Upper and Lower Canada) with supplies for Europe. For example, on March 4, 1847, the Constitution andSarah Sands had unfurled their sails, while at Boston, the Tartar sailed in April. These vessels were on their way to Ireland. A New York paper reported that in March some $1,250,000 of supplies a week were leaving from that port for Ireland and about $5,000,000 from all parts of the U.S.
On April 24, 1847, the vessel Morea was leaving Boston for Scotland with food stuffs for relief of the starving. There is also a report of the French government buying up thousands of pounds of food to alleviate the situation in that country. Reports also came from Holland, Germany and Switzerland about fever and hunger.
A report from England stated that the emigration of 1847 would probably go to 200,000 or 300,000 from Ireland alone. Government agents in other countries were also reporting large increases in the number of people heading to the port cities of the continent. Ships were being hired at an every increasing pace and Captains were carrying full compliments of passengers, some exceeding the legal limits. Some 6,000 Germans, the papers reported, were already at the ports of Breman, Harve and Antwerp preparing to sail.
Just to add to the misery, the northern U.S. and Canada had a hard winter in 1846-7 and the snow and ice were causing delays for many of the vessels. There are reports of gales and of vessels being stuck in the ice for weeks. The Albion, from Greenock, for example, sailed on March 25, 1847 and on April 10 hit the ice about 40 miles off Cape Ray. The vessel did not arrive in Quebec until June 4, 1847!
Even knowing that they were to receive more emigrants than in former years did not prepare the agents in the ports of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Saint John, Quebec, and others for what was to come. By May 5, New York stated that they had already received 17,668 emigrants since the 1st of April. Boston had turned away a vessel, the Mary, carrying 46 passengers from Cork, Ireland because, “the city authorities would not suffer them to be landed, owing to their destitute condition, unless the master gave bonds that they should not become a burthen to the city.” Quarantine stations in various US ports were running out of space. In New Orleans they reported they were, “doing all in their power to make them [the emigrants] comfortable.”
Quebec began to receive emigrants in May as the ice finally left the St. Lawrence river and ships were able to make their way up to the city. Grosse Isle, the quarantine station, began to feel the strain within the first few weeks of May. On May 11, Mr. Buchanan, the Chief Emigrant Agent at Quebec, reported that “From the above statement it appears there are now on their way to this port, 31 vessels, having on board 10,636 passengers.” Before the year was out Grosse Isle would be completely overwhelmed.
The Virginius, from Liverpool on May 28, had 476 passengers on board but, by the time she reached Grosse Isle, “…106 were ill of fever, including nine of the crew, and the large number of 158 had died on the passage, including the first and second officers and seven of the crew, and the master and the steward dying, the few that were able to come on deck were ghastly yellow looking spectres, unshaven and hollow checked, and without exception, the worst looking passengers I have ever seen…” wrote Dr. Douglas, Medical Superintendent at Grosse Isle, in the 1847 Immigration Report.
The fever they spoke of was Typhus Fever, more commonly known as “ships fever.” Typhus was spread by body louse and within ten days of a person being bitten they would start to show symptoms of high fever, pain in muscles and joints, cerebral disorders, and headache. By the fifth day, a dark-red rash with elevated spots would appear on the trunk and shoulders, spreading to the rest of the body. Delirium would often set in by the second week. If the patients survived to the third week, they would often recover but would soon have a relapse with high fever, from which they would recover very quickly. The death rate was often as high as 50-70 percent of those infected.
The Irish were in the worst condition upon arrival at Grosse Isle. “An eye-witness called it the Isle of Death, and found a strange contrast of beauty and suffering, of levity and sorrow”, wrote Guillet, in his book The Great Migration. One cabin passenger described the difference between the Irish and German immigrants:
…all of them, without a single exception, comfortably and neatly clad, clean and happy. There was no sickness amongst them, and each comely fair-haired girl laughed as she passed the doctor, to join the group of robust young men who had undergone the ordeal…As we repassed the German ship, the deck was covered with emigrants, who were singing a charming hymn, in whose beautiful harmony all took part; spreading the music of their five hundred voices upon the calm, still air that wafted it around….As the distance between us increased, the anthem died way until it became inaudible. It was the finest chorus I ever heard,–performed in a theatre of unrivalled magnificence….Although it was pleasing to see so many joyous beings, it made me sad when I thought of the very, very different state of my unfortunate compatriots; and I had become so habituated to misery, disease and death that the happiness that now surrounded me was quite discordant with my feelings.
Page 151 of Guillet but taken from The Ocean Plague by Robert Whyte.
As the emigrants continued to cross the ocean the US ports began to reject vessels thus forcing them to make their way to Quebec or New Brunswick ports. It was not just the passengers who suffered as Boston reported the arrival of the Jas. H. Shepherd from Liverpool with 228 passenger of which 26 died on the voyage and 105 were ill upon arrival. They also reported that, “…part of crew sick and for the last 10 days has had but 6 men all to do duty.” In the end, Grosse Isle reported 9,572 deaths for the 1847 season and New York 703. (from Immigration Report of 1847)
With the terrible conditions on board ship some children arrived in Canada orphans. Others lost their parents, or remaining parent, at the quarantine station or on the way inland. Due to conditions on Grosse Isle, those in good health were removed by steamboats to Quebec and Montreal as quickly as possible, often leaving behind sick members of the family. This became such a problem that the emigrants began to remain at Montreal and Quebec instead of moving on to their destination. Mr. Buchanan, the Emigrant Agent at Quebec, took over some facilities to house these emigrants as they awaited word from Grosse Isle about loved ones and ads, such as this one, began to appear in the newspapers. Some of the orphans remained in the province of Quebec (partial lists) but some were sent on to Upper Canada. A list of 197 orphans and widows was kept by the Asylum in Toronto, set up specifically to care for the widows and orphans of 1847.
Quebec immigration increased from 32,153 in 1846 to 97,953 in 1847; New Brunswick reported 9,765 immigrants in 1846 and 16,251 in 1847; while that to New York increased from 97,843 in 1846 to 145,890 in 1847. Boston’s increase was 6,666 souls while Philadelphia doubled the number of emigrants. New Orleans went from 22,148 emigrants in 1846 to 40,442 in 1847. (The Ocean Plague, published in 1848) Between 1846 and 1847 the number of emigrants to America from the British Isles increased fom 125,678 to 251,834. (Carrothers, Emigration From The British Isles, p. 305.)
THE IRISH EMIGRANTS IN CANADA
Surely the Government will not allow the feeling for the disasters attending the poor Irish in a foreign land to pass away with the miserable deaths of the victims? Will there be no enquiry into the causes, mediate or remote, which produced all this loss of human life? —into the modes of transport— the state of emigrant vessels— the abominations of emigrant agents, and all the etceteras which have become, and are, accessory to the deaths of the Irish poor? Out of 2,235 who embarked for Canada in those wretched hulks, called emigrant vessels, not more than five hundred will live to settle in America.
“From information recently given to us,” says the Quebec Gazette, “the quarantine at Liverpool is not only worse than useless as regards this country, but absolutely murders the emigrants intending to embark hitherward. We are told that from 15 to 16 hulks are stationed off the port for the reception of the refugees from Ireland, who, when sick or doubtful looking, are transferred to them from the Irish steamers and from whence, after a short probation, shipped on board vessels destined for Canada; and that, too, as may be naturally conceived, in a worse state than if allowed to proceed on their voyage at once. The passengers in the Triton were of this class, among whom disease appeared the day they left the docks. Her deaths before reaching Grosse Isle numbered 83, including all the officers of the ship and several of the crew; the master, also, being very sick.”
It can hardly be believed that affairs in Liverpool are conducted, as to the shipment of emigrants, as represented. The imputation is boldly made, and if untrue, an immediate contradiction is necessary. The report from the office of her Majesty’s chief superintendent of emigration to Canada, dated Quebec, 24th July, states the numbers of emigrants who had arrived this year there, were 56,855. In the same period of last year, 24,576 settlers reached the port, showing an increase this year of no less than 32,279. August 18, 1847 Cork Examiner
THE FEVER IN CANADA
The following is an extract from the letter of an emigrant, addressed to one of his friends in this city, and received by the last mail from Boston. It contains a vivid and painful picture of the emigrant catastrophe in Canada. The letter is dated from the barqueBridgetown, lying off Grosse island, in front of Quebec, which, it appears, was converted to a vast burial place:–
We arrived here on the 22nd from Liverpool. I regret to tell you that fever broke out, and that seventy passengers and one sailor were committed to the deep on the voyage. There are several more ill. We buried six yesterday on shore. The carpenter and joiner are occupied making coffins. There are six more dead after the night. I cannot say when we can go to Quebec, as we cannot land the remainder of the sick at present, there being no room in the hospitals for them, though the front of the island is literally covered with sheds and tents.
The accounts from the shore are awful, and our condition on board you can form no idea of— helpless children without parents or relatives, the father buried in the deep last week, and the mother the week before,— their six children under similar unfortunate circumstances, and so on. I trust God will carry me through this trying ordeal— I was a few days sick, but am now recovered. Captain Wilson was complaining for a few days. It is an awful change from the joyous hopes with which most of us left our unfortunate country, expecting to be able to earn that livelihood denied us at home— all— all changed in many cases to bitter deep despair.
September 17, 1847 Cork Examiner
Americas True History of Religious Tolerance | History & Archaeology | Smithsonian Magazine.From the earliest arrival of Europeans on America’s shores, religion has often been a cudgel, used to discriminate, suppress and even kill the foreign, the “heretic” and the “unbeliever”—including the “heathen” natives already here. Moreover, while it is true that the vast majority of early-generation Americans were Christian, the pitched battles between various Protestant sects and, more explosively, between Protestants and Catholics, present an unavoidable contradiction to the widely held notion that America is a “Christian nation.”
- America’s True History of Religious Tolerance (neatorama.com)
- Secularism and religious tolerance (in the 16th – 18th centuries) (secularnewsdaily.com)
A 9-year-old girl stood in the darkness of a railroad station, surrounded by tearful travelers who had gathered up their meager belongings, awaiting the train that would take her from her native home to a place she had never been. The bewildered child couldn’t know she was a character in the recurring drama of America’s love-hate relationship with peoples from foreign lands who, whether fleeing hardship or oppression or simply drawn to the promise of opportunity and prosperity, desperately strive to be Americans. As yet another act in the long saga of American immigration unfolds today, some U.S. citizens can recall when, during a time of anti-immigrant frenzy fueled by economic crisis and racism, they found themselves being swept out of the country of their birth.
Emilia Castañeda will never forget that 1935 morning. Along with her father and brother, she was leaving her native Los Angeles. Staying, she was warned by some adults at the station, meant she would become a ward of the state. ‘I had never been to Mexico,’ Castañeda said some six decades later. ‘We left with just one trunk full of belongings. No furniture. A few metal cooking utensils. A small ceramic pitcher, because it reminded me of my mother…and very little clothing. We took blankets, only the very essentials.’
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As momentous as that morning seemed to the 9-year-old Castañeda, such departures were part of a routine and roundly accepted movement to send Mexicans and Mexican-Americans back to their ancestral home. Los Angeles County–sponsored repatriation trains had been leaving the station bound for Mexico since 1931, when, in the wake of the Wall Street crash of 1929 and the economic collapse and dislocation that followed, welfare cases skyrocketed. The county Board of Supervisors, other county and municipal agencies and the Chamber of Commerce proclaimed repatriation of Mexicans as a humane and utilitarian solution to the area’s growing joblessness and dwindling resources. Even the Mexican consul stationed in Los Angeles praised the effort, at least at the outset, thanking the welfare department for its work ‘among my countrymen, in helping them return to Mexico.’ The Mexican government, still warmed by the rhetoric of the 1910 revolution, was touting the development of agricultural colonies and irrigation projects that would provide work for the displaced compatriots from the north.
By 1935, however, it was hard to detect much benevolence driving the government-sponsored train rides to Mexico. For young Castañeda’s father, Mexico was the last resort, a final defeat after 20 years of legal residence in America. His work as a union bricklayer had enabled him to buy a house, but — like millions of other Americans — his house and job were lost to the Depression. His wife, who had worked as a maid, contracted tuberculosis in 1933 and died the following year. ‘My father told us that he was returning to Mexico because he couldn’t find work in Los Angeles,’ Castañeda said. ‘He wasn’t going to abandon us. We were going with him. When L.A. County arranged for our trip to Mexico, he and other Mexicans had no choice but to go.’
Francisco Balderrama and Raymond Rodríguez, the authors of Decade of Betrayal, the first expansive study of Mexican repatriation with perspectives from both sides of the border, claim that 1 million people of Mexican descent were driven from the United States during the 1930s due to raids, scare tactics, deportation, repatriation and public pressure. Of that conservative estimate, approximately 60 percent of those leaving were legal American citizens. Mexicans comprised nearly half of all those deported during the decade, although they made up less than 1 percent of the country’s population. ‘Americans, reeling from the economic disorientation of the depression, sought a convenient scapegoat,’ Balderrama and Rodríguez wrote. ‘They found it in the Mexican community.’
During the early years of the 20th century, the U.S. Immigration Service paid scant attention to Mexican nationals crossing the border. The disfavored groups among border watchers at the time were the Chinese, who had been explicitly barred by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, criminals, lunatics, prostitutes, paupers and those suffering from loathsome and contagious diseases. In actuality, the Mexican immigrant was often a pauper, but he was not, in the law’s language, ‘likely to become a public charge.’ Cheap Mexican labor was in great demand by a host of America’s burgeoning industries. The railroads, mining companies and agribusinesses sent agents to greet immigrants at the border, where they extolled the rewards of their respective enterprises. Border officials felt no duty to impede the labor flow into the Southwest.
The Mexican population in the United States escalated during the years following 1910. By 1914, according to author Matt S. Meier, the chaos and bloodshed of the Mexican revolution had driven as many as 100,000 Mexican nationals into the United States, and they would continue to cross the border in large numbers legally and illegally. Immigration laws were tightened in 1917, but their enforcement at the border remained lax. While laws enacted in 1921 and 1924 imposed quotas on immigrants from Europe and other parts of the Eastern Hemisphere, quotas were not applied to Mexico or other Western nations. This disparity found its detractors, particularly East Texas congressman John C. Box, who was a vocal proponent of curtailing the influx from the south.
Though none of Box’s proposals became law, his efforts drew favorable coverage in the Saturday Evening Post and other journals that editorialized against the ‘Mexicanization’ of the United States. When a Midwestern beet grower who hired Mexican immigrants appeared at a House Immigration Committee hearing, Box suggested that the man’s ideal farm workers were ‘a class of people who have not the ability to rise, who have not the initiative, who are children, who do not want to own land, who can be directed by men in the upper stratum of society. That is what you want, is it?’
‘I believe that is about it,’ replied the grower.
Those who exploited cheap Mexican labor, argued Box and his adherents, betrayed American workers and imperiled American cities with invading hordes of mixed-blood foreigners. Those who railed against quotas should visit the barrios in Los Angeles, wrote Kenneth L. Roberts in the Saturday Evening Post, ‘and see endless streets crowded with the shacks of illiterate, diseased, pauperized Mexicans, taking no interest whatever in the community, living constantly on the ragged edge of starvation, bringing countless numbers of American citizens into the world with the reckless prodigality of rabbits.’
Upon taking office in 1929, President Herbert Hoover had to face the raging debate. He resisted imposing the quotas demanded by Box and others, as Hoover probably feared they would rankle the Mexican government and thus threaten American business interests there. Instead, Hoover, hoping to appease the restrictionists, chose the less-permanent option of virtually eliminating visas for Mexican laborers and by bolstering the Immigration Service, which had grown from a minor government operation to a force that included a border patrol of nearly 800 officers.
After the Depression set in, the removal of foreigners who were taking jobs and services away from cash-strapped, struggling Americans seemed to be a salient solution, perhaps the only tangible recourse to the desperation that had swept the country. Under the direction of William N. Doak, Hoover’s newly appointed secretary of labor, immigration officers dredged the country for illegal aliens. They raided union halls, dances, social clubs and other ethnic enclaves where people without papers might be found. Their tactics favored intimidation over legal procedure. Suspects were routinely arrested without warrants. Many were denied counsel, and their deportation ‘hearings’ were often conducted in the confines of a city or county jail. Frightened and ignorant of their rights, many suspects volunteered to leave rather than suffer through deportation.
While Mexicans were not the only target in the drive against illegal aliens, they were often the most visible. This was certainly true in Los Angeles, which, at that time had some 175,000 inhabitants of Mexican descent, second only to Mexico City. In early 1931, Los Angeles newspapers reported on an impending anti-alien sweep led by a ranking immigration officer from Washington, D.C. Walter Carr, the federal Los Angeles district director of immigration, assured the press that no single ethnic group was under siege, but raids in the Mexican communities of El Monte, Pacoima and San Fernando belied that official line. The final show of force occurred with a raid on La Placita, a downtown Los Angeles park that was popular with Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. On February 26, an afternoon idyll on Olivera Street was shattered by an invasion of immigration agents and local police. Agents searched every person on the scene for proof of legal residence. Though hundreds were hauled off for questioning, few were ultimately detained. The message was in the bluster, not the busts.
As recounted in Decade of Betrayal, Labor Secretary Doak’s efforts proved to be highly successful: Deportees outnumbered those who entered the United States during the first nine months of 1931. There were, however, some detractors. A subcommittee formed by the Los Angeles Bar Association found that Carr’s tactics, such as inhibiting a suspect’s access to counsel, fell outside the law. Carr dismissed these charges as nothing more than sour grapes over a lost client base and justified the deprivation of counsel on the grounds that lawyers merely sold false hopes in exchange for cash squeezed from needy immigrants.
Investigations into the alleged abuses began on a national level, as well, by the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement, which was appointed by President Hoover in 1929. Named for its chairman, former U.S. Attorney General George W. Wickersham, the Wickersham Commission had made front-page news with its investigations into the rackets of Al Capone and others. Like the L.A. Bar Association, the commission also found the methods employed by Doak’s underlings to be unconstitutional. Regardless of the legality or illegality of the practices, one thing was clear: Mexican immigrants were departing in great numbers. According to a report by Carr, by May 1931, ‘There have been approximately forty thousand aliens who left this district during the last eighteen months of which probably twenty percent [were] deportable.’ Even those who were here legally, he allowed, had been driven out by fear.
In retrospect, other options were available. The Registry Act of 1929, for example, ensured permanent residency status — a version of amnesty — to those who had been in the United States continuously since 1921 and had been ‘honest, law-abiding aliens.’ While this surely would have applied to many Mexicans, the act’s provisions were utilized mostly by European or Canadian immigrants. In many cases, institutionalized hostility prevailed over legal rights. Anti-Mexican sentiments convinced the father of author Raymond Rodríguez to return to Mexico. His mother met with a local priest, who assured her that, as a mother of five American children and a legal resident, she could not be forced to leave. ‘So he left and we stayed,’ says Rodríguez, who never saw his father again.
Instead of driving Mexican aliens underground — as was often the result of raids and other scare tactics — it became apparent to anti-immigrant proponents that it was more expedient simply to assist them out of the country. ‘Repatriation’ became a locally administered alternative to deportation, which was a federal process beyond the purview of the county and municipal officials. ‘Repatriation is supposed to be voluntary,’ says Francisco Balderrama, Decade’s co-author. ‘That’s kind of a whitewash word, a kind of covering up of the whole thing.’
Some 350 people departed on the first county-sponsored repatriation train to leave Los Angeles in March 1931. The next month, a second train left with nearly three times as many people, of which roughly one-third paid for their own passage. The repatriates were led to believe that they could return at a later date, observed George P. Clements, manager of agriculture of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. In a memo to the chamber’s general manager, Arthur G. Arnoll, Clements, who wanted to keep the cheap labor, wrote, ‘I think this is a grave mistake because it is not the truth.’ Clements went on to state that American-born children leaving without documentation were ‘American citizens without very much hope of ever coming back into the United States.’
Los Angeles later developed a highly efficient repatriation program under the direction of Rex Thomson, an engineer who had impressed members of the Board of Supervisors with his nuts-and-bolts know-how while advising them on the construction of the Los Angeles General Hospital. After the county welfare caseload nearly doubled from 25,913 cases during 1929-30 to 42,124 cases in 1930-31, the board asked the pragmatic Thomson to serve as assistant superintendent of charities. ‘It was one of the highest paying public jobs in California,’ Thomson recalled during an interview nearly 40 years later. Having lost a bundle in failed local banks, he continued, ‘I was interested in a job.’
Thomson proved to be a tough administrator who excised bureaucratic fat and made welfare money work for the county. Men dug channels in the Los Angeles River in exchange for room and board. He put the unemployed to work on several local projects: building walls along Elysian Park, grading the grounds around the California State Building. When Thomson visited Congress in Washington, D.C., to seek funding for his public works program, he challenged the feds to ‘send out people to see if we aren’t worthy of this federal help.’ By the end of the week, he later reported: ‘I’ll be darned if they didn’t agree. The government got the idea, and started this Works Progress [Administration], but they didn’t always impose the discipline that was necessary.’
Along with putting the unemployed to work on government-sponsored projects, repatriation would become another of Thomson’s social remedies that would merit emulation. Thomson would later describe his program: ‘We had thousands of Mexican nationals who were out of work. I went to Mexico City and I told them that we would like to ship these people back — not to the border but to where they came from or where the Mexicans would send them if we agreed it was a proper place. We could ship them back by train and feed them well and decently, for $74 a family. So I employed social workers who were Americans of Mexican descent but fluent in the language, or Mexican nationals, and they would go out and — I want to emphasize offer repatriation to these people.’
A child in 1932, Rubén Jiménez remembers one such social worker, a Mr. Hispana, who convinced Jiménez’s father to exchange his two houses in East Los Angeles for 21 acres in Mexicali. ‘We were not a burden to the U.S. government or anybody,’ says Jiménez, whose father worked for the gas company and collected rental income on his property. Still, Hispana convinced the man that it was best for him to turn over his bungalow and frame house and depart with his family to Mexico, where their 21 acres awaited them. ‘We camped under a tree until Dad built a shack out of bamboo,’ Jiménez recalls. Since there was no electricity available, his parents traded their washing machine and other appliances for chickens, mules, pigs and other necessities for their new life.
In the clutches of the Depression’s hard times, families sold their homes at low prices. In some cases, the county placed liens on abandoned property. ‘While there is no direct authority for selling the effects and applying their proceeds,’ a county attorney informed Thomson, ‘we fail to see how the county can be damaged by so doing.’
‘They are going to a land where the unemployed take all-day siestas in the warm sun,’ wrote the Los Angeles Evening Express in August 1931, which described children ‘following their parents to a new land of promise, where they may play in green fields without watching out for automobiles.’ The reality proved to be far less idyllic. Emilia Castañeda first glimpsed Mexican poverty in the tattered shoes on the old train porter who carried her father’s trunk. ‘He was wearing huaraches,’ she recalled. ‘Huaraches are sandals worn by poor people. They are made out of old tires and scraps.’ Along with her father and brother, Castañeda moved to her aunt’s place in the state of Durango, where nine relatives were already sharing the one-room domicile. ‘There was no room for us,’ she said. ‘If it rained we couldn’t go indoors.’ She quickly learned that running water and electricity were luxuries left back in Los Angeles. She took baths in a galvanized tub and fetched water from wells. The toilet was a hole in the backyard. ‘We were living with people who didn’t want us there,’ Castañeda said. ‘We were imposing on them out of necessity.’ They left after her father found work. In time her brother would be working also and, to her great dismay, shuffling around in huaraches.
Contrary to what was being propagated, Mexicans in Los Angeles did not impose a disproportionate strain on welfare services during the Depression. This is according to Decade and Abraham Hoffman, whose dissertation and subsequent book, Unwanted Mexican Americans in the Great Depression, examined repatriation from a Los Angeles perspective. Based on the county’s own figures, Mexicans comprised an average of only 10 percent of those on relief. Nonetheless, repatriation was promoted and widely viewed as an effective means of diminishing welfare rolls, and Mexico’s proclaimed plans for agricultural expansion conveniently complemented the movement. Indeed, Thomson traveled extensively throughout Mexico to survey proposed work sites and hold negotiations at various levels of the Mexican government, including the ministry of foreign affairs and the presidency. Some Mexican officials were so eager to get Thomson’s repatriates, he later recalled, he was personally offered a bounty of land for each. ‘One time I was met by the governor of Quintaneroo. He offered me 17 and a half hectares (44 acres) for every repatriated individual I sent there to cut sisal and I said ‘Absolutely no.” Thomson claimed repatriates were in high demand across the border. ‘They brought across skills and industrial discipline,’ he said. ‘At that time, if you could repair a Model T Ford, that was quite an art.’
Thomson’s program — and its seemingly fantastic results — attracted the attention of state and local leaders from around the country, and his practice of engaging the Mexican government was copied as well. In the fall of 1932, Ignacio Batiza, the Mexican consul in Detroit, urged his compatriots to return home and ‘accept this opportunity which is offered them.’ While Batiza may have believed his country’s promises of cooperation, others did not. A pamphlet circulated by a group called the International Labor Defense warned that thousands of workers choosing to return to Mexico would die of hunger. This was the end of 1932, and the feasibility of Mexico’s grand plans was not yet widely challenged.
With a population of less than 15 million in the early years of the Depression, Mexico needed more workers to attain its goal of land transformation. Even as the Depression took hold, the Mexican government proceeded with its agricultural development plans, which would include repatriated nationals — especially those with farming skills. During that time, ‘They are proclaiming workers’ rights,’ Balderrama explained. ‘If they’re not accepting of the repatriates, that calls into question what they’re all about.’ In the end, however, the government’s post-revolutionary zeal eclipsed a hard reckoning of the facts. The returning mass of impoverished pilgrims from the United States would strain an already fragile economy. Officially, at least, the government welcomed the compatriots from the north, underscoring its proclamation of Mexicanism and support for workers’ rights.
Mexico struggled to cope with the deluge of new arrivals. Hungry and sick travelers crowded into border towns such as Ciudad Juárez and Nogales, where paltry food and medical supplies ensured a daily death count. There are many accounts of border towns crowded with people, as the train connections were not well organized. One repatriado reported: ‘Many that come here don’t have any place to go. They don’t have any idea of where they are going or what they’ll do. Some families just stayed down at the railway station.’
In an attempt to manage the crisis, Mexican governmental agencies joined several private organizations to create the National Repatriation Committee in 1933. The first colonization project undertaken by this august assembly was Pinotepa Nacional, located in a fertile tropical area of southern Mexico. Modern farming equipment and mules, along with food and other provisions, were made available to the farmers, who were to earn their equity through produce. And while the crops grew quickly, this highly touted proletarian collective proved to be a disastrous failure beset with complaints about mistreatment and meager food rations. The project’s final undoing came from disease, as the land was rife with poisonous insects. Sixty people died within 20 days, according to a settler who had left after one month, taking his three small sons with him. ‘Some have families and can’t leave very well,’ he told one researcher. ‘But my boys and I could. We walked to Oaxaca. It took us eight days.’
Though the government welcomed repatriates, the general citizenry often did not. ‘Most of us here in Mexico do not look on these repatriates very favorably,’ remarked one Mexico City landlady. ‘They abandoned the country during the revolution, and after getting expelled from the north, they expected their old compatriots…to greet them with celebrations of fireworks and brass bands.’ Castañeda remembers children taunting her as a ‘repatriada.’ ‘The word was very offensive to me,’ she recalled. ‘It was an insult, as is calling someone a gringo or a wetback.’ As one Mexican ranch worker asked a repatriate in Torreón in the northeastern state of Coahuila: ‘What you doing here for? To eat the little bread we have?’
As news about the harsh conditions in Mexico traveled north, it became more difficult to convince people to leave the United States. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal provided work for some Mexicans, such as veterans of the U.S. military, and welfare was allotted to those who were barred from the work projects. But, back in Los Angeles, Thomson remained resolute in his efforts to repatriate Mexicans, eventually turning his attention to nursing homes and asylums in his desire to purge what he considered welfare leeches. In some cases, the bedridden were sent out on the back of a truck.
Many American children of repatriates never lost their desire for a true repatriation of their own. Emilia Castañeda, who had relocated 17 times while living in Mexico, decided to return to Los Angeles as her 18th birthday approached, some nine years after that dark morning in 1935. Her godmother in Boyle Heights forwarded Castañeda’s birth certificate, along with money for the train ride. Ironically, this American citizen was again subjected to humiliation. At the border crossing, immigration officials asked to see her tourist card. ‘I had to pay for a tourist card because, according to them, I was a tourist. Can you imagine? Me, a tourist, for nine years.’ It was 1944, and the train was crowded with soldiers. ‘I sat on my suitcase in the aisle. The seats were reserved for servicemen, but some were kind and they offered me their seats. I spoke very little English by then. Here was this American girl coming back to the United States.’
Castañeda relearned English in the same school she had attended as a child. As she would later admit, her forced relocation ‘prevented me from completing my education and advancing for better employment.’ Rubén Jiménez had attended school in Mexico, walking 12 miles a day to a one-room structure where six grades shared one teacher. When he returned to the States, the transition back into Los Angeles schools was difficult. A high school sophomore at age 17, Jiménez dropped out and joined the Army, serving as a radar operator during World War II. After several years, he completed college and eventually retired as a parole investigator.
While many American citizens who were caught up in the repatriation movement returned and struggled to readjust to their native country, thousands who had left without documentation had no legitimate proof of citizenship and were denied reentry. ‘We talked to one lady, part of her family came back, and part of it, unable to prove their residency, settled along the border so they could get together sometimes,’ recalls Rodríguez. ‘But the whole family was not able to make it back. And that was not an unusual circumstance.’
In 1972 Hoffman noted that the history of Mexicans in the United States was largely ignored. ‘A case in point is that of the repatriation phenomenon,’ he said. ‘When I started working on it as a dissertation there was really nothing. Historians had neglected it as a topic, as they did essentially everything that today we call ethnic studies. I was interested in the topic because I was born in East L.A., and although I am not a Mexican American, I did have some concerns about what had been going on in an area where I had grown up.’
Repatriates often tried to forget the experience, and they did not speak about it to their children. Many saw themselves as victims of local vendettas rather than scapegoats of a national campaign. ‘They really didn’t understand the broad aspects,’ says Rodríguez. ‘They thought it was an individual experience. It wasn’t something pleasant. It wasn’t something they could be proud of.’
The silence, however, did not dissuade a new generation from seeking answers. ‘I knew that my father had spent his childhood in Mexico, despite the fact that he was born in Detroit, and I always had questions about it,’ says Elena Herrada, a union official and activist in Detroit. While at Wayne State University in the ’70s, Herrada and other students began collecting oral histories from elders in the community, a practice she continues today. ‘All we wanted to do was get the story told in our own families, and in our own communities, so that we would have a better understanding of why we don’t vote, why we don’t answer the census, why we don’t protest in the face of extreme injustice. It just explains so many things for us.’
In the summer of 2003, the subject of Mexican repatriation went beyond the confines of family and academic circles and returned to the scrutiny of government. A hearing was held in Sacramento, Calif., presided over by state Senator Joe Dunne, who had been inspired by Decade of Betrayal. The book’s authors spoke at the session, and Rodríguez’s voice faltered as he recalled his own father’s flight to Mexico in 1936. Other scholars spoke, as did local politicians and two repatriates. A class action lawsuit on behalf of those who had been unfairly expelled from California was filed in July, with Castañeda as the lead plaintiff. The suit was eventually withdrawn, as two consecutive governors vetoed bills that would have funded research and expanded statutory limitations.
For a time, however, the civil action and the forgotten history behind it were national news. This, in a way, was the beginning of a more lasting restitution: an acknowledgement of the past. ‘My idea is for it to be in the history books,’ says Emilia Castañeda, ‘for children to learn what happened to American citizens.’
This article was written by Steve Boisson and originally published in the September 2006 issue of American History Magazine.
The Real Anchors Anchor babies? Maybe we should worry more about native anchors. August 12, 2010 – by Rand Simberg
Well, the government class is up in arms over Senator Grahamnesty’s suggestion that we amend the 14th Amendment to end the practice of so-called “anchor babies” and automatic birthright citizenship for non-citizens. But perhaps the problem with the senator’s suggestion is that it doesn’t go far enough. One of Don Rumsfeld’s pearls of wisdom was that when a problem seemed unsolvable, the solution could be to enlarge it. Perhaps it’s time to rethink not just birthright citizenship, but citizenship in general, and what it means.
Part of the problem with illegal immigration is the concern (legitimate, in my opinion) that it is being cynically used as a means to expand the political power of those who refuse to do anything about it (and not just the Democrats, but perhaps even including Senator Grahamnesty, and certainly George W. Bush and Karl Rove) — they hope that if they grant the franchise to those millions here illegitimately, they will be rewarded by their votes in the future. There are obviously other concerns with uncontrolled immigration (e.g., increasing the labor supply and depressing the labor price for those born here), but the voting issue may be at the heart of the current political battle, particularly because many fear that once such a large block of newcomers is given the vote without adequate assimilation, they will take the country in a direction far different than that intended eleven-score years ago. We should consider separating out the issues of who can be here in general, and who can be a citizen.
In the science fiction novel Starship Troopers, the late great Robert Heinlein put forth a different notion of citizenship — not one of a birthright, but an earned status. In this view, more republican (and in better keeping with the intent of the Founders), he made a useful distinction between being a citizen and being a civilian. He made citizenship a separate issue from whether or not one is entitled to live and work in the country, or even receive its benefits (even including welfare). Perhaps to be a citizen should be defined as being able to partake in the running of the country, and those unwilling to do the things necessary to become one will have to accept the decisions of those who have done so, or find another nation in which to reside, one perhaps more congenial to their lack of civic responsibility. That is, citizens would be eligible to vote and run for or be appointed to public office — civilians would not.
In Heinlein’s formulation, two years of government service — sometimes, but not invariably, military service — was a requirement of citizenship. Some have mistakenly declared his notion fascist, but that is nonsense, as fascism is much more than militarism (assuming that one even accepts that Heinlein’s society was militaristic — I don’t necessarily). Economic collectivism and corporatism (things that would be unlikely in a Heinleinian society) are key features of it. And fellow SF author Spider Robinson long ago acquitted him of the charge.
And of course, there is no reason to accept Heinlein’s criteria to investigate the notion of citizenship as earned rather than birthright. It might be something as simple as demonstrating an understanding of the responsibilities of citizenship (including a knowledge of the principles and rules of the republic) and not being on the public dole. One of the problems that we have in this nation is representation without taxation — that is, a greater and greater number of people are net recipients of taxpayer funds while the numbers of productive taxpayers decline. If we reach the tipping point at which there are more of the former than of the latter, and they are allowed to vote, then the republic is lost, because, as Tocqueville warned almost two centuries ago, they will become a tyrannical majority, continuing to vote more for themselves from those who actually produce the wealth.
Getting back to the immigration issue, if it were my choice, I’d much rather grant citizenship to someone who was willing to brave a desert and river crossing to get to this nation, learn the language and the civics, and work for a living, than someone born here who takes the nation for granted and refused to accept those responsibilities. Who is more deserving of the vote — the immigrant who has worked for it, or the native who spurns its requirements and demands public largesse? Or worse yet, a native who gangs with others to prey on his own neighbors? Why should someone, regardless of their behavior and level of social responsibility, be a citizen of this great nation through the sheer luck of having been born here, when many other true Americans who weren’t born here but “got here as fast as they can” are not?
Note that this isn’t about civil rights, at least not the traditional negative rights as stated in the Bill of Rights. Both citizens and civilians would have rights to free speech, rights to fair trials, even rights to bear arms if they’re not felonious, but voting is not and should not be a right — it should be a privilege, because, as noted above, it’s one that many will otherwise abuse to the detriment of their fellow residents, should they not be responsible and willing to pull their own weight, choosing instead to rob them at the ballot box.
If we rethink the notion of what it means to be a citizen, and how to attain that state, the issue of “anchor babies” of non-residents will become moot. What we should be much more worried about, in this age of false entitlement, are the anchor natives who are sinking the country.
Rand Simberg is a recovering aerospace engineer and a consultant in space commercialization, space tourism and Internet security. He offers occasionally biting commentary about infinity and beyond at his weblog, Transterrestrial Musings.
10 Reasons Amending the Constitution to End Birthright Citizenship Is a Terrible Idea- American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Written by: Crystal Williams
guest blogger Greg Siskind, AILA Board of Governors
One of the greatest accomplishments of the Republican Party was actually one of its earliest. After winning the Civil War and freeing the slaves, the Grand Old Party worked to pass the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, the bedrock of civil rights protections in the U.S. that has served as a model to democracies around the world. The accomplishment was so significant that the GOP touts it in its list of greatest accomplishments (http://www.gop.com/index.php/learn/accomplishment/).
So it is, of course, shocking that in the days following the defeat of the Arizona law by a judge in that state, a number of Republican Senators have come forth calling for the repeal of the 14th Amendment’s provisions on birthright citizenship.
The 14th Amendment guarantees that all children born in the U.S. (with narrow exceptions for children born to diplomats) are U.S. citizens. While some have argued that the 14th Amendment doesn’t clearly protect birthright citizenship, this has been established law for more than a century. The Supreme Court removed any doubt of this in the 1898 United States v. Wong Kim Ark case where, by a 6-2 majority, the Supreme Court held that:
The fourteenth amendment reaffirms the ancient and fundamental rule of citizenship by birth within the territory, in the allegiance and under the protection of the country, including all children here born of resident aliens, with the exceptions or qualifications (as old as the rule itself) of children of foreign sovereigns or their ministers, or born on public ships, or of enemies within and during a hostile occupation of part of our territory, and with the single exception of children of members of the Indian tribes owing direct allegiance to their several tribes… To hold that the fourteenth amendment of the constitution excludes from citizenship the children born in the United States of citizens or subjects of other countries, would be to deny citizenship to thousands of persons of English, Scotch, Irish, German or other European parentage, who have always been considered and treats as citizens of the United States.
Nearly three decades ago, the Supreme Court relied on Wing Kim Ark in the case of Plyler v. Doe to make clear that the 14th Amendment applies to ALL persons born in the U.S., whether their parents are legally present or not.
Extremists have been complaining about so-called “anchor babies” for some time. To listen to them, one would assume that millions of these children are growing up in America today or will one day choose to exercise their citizenship rights and enter the U.S. Few except politicians on the fringe were willing to support the extremists. But in the last several days, a number of lawmakers have lost their inhibitions and are openly calling for a Constitutional Amendment.
Once the shock of the suggestion wears off, it does pay to at least think about some of the basic reasons why we need to steer clear of an Amendment. Here are a number of reasons why.
1. This is a “solution in search of a problem.”
To hear Lindsey Graham’s and his allies’ description of “drop and leave,” Americans understandably might assume that there are millions of people coming to the U.S. to have children. Is there really any truth to this allegation?
The anti-14th Amendment folks simultaneously talk about two groups of individuals when discussing amending the Constitution. One is the group of mothers that is illegally present in the U.S. having children and the second are mothers who come on so-called “birth tourism” packages legally to the U.S. so they can claim citizenship for their kids.
On the first issue, there is little evidence that a significant number of mothers illegally enter the U.S. for the purpose of having children. The burden of proof should be on proponents of tinkering with one of the cornerstones of American democracy. Before changing the Constitution, we should have clear evidence that there is a problem rather than the anecdotes of politicians pushing an anti-immigrant agenda.
It is true that many mothers here illegally do have children, but their purpose for being in the U.S. is generally to work or to be with a family member who is the breadwinner. This is probably the group that Graham is targeting and he should be honest in saying that the goal is to punish people who are here illegally and to disenfranchise their children as opposed to stopping a mythical “drop and leave” crisis.
As for maternity tourism, there is actual real evidence to point to that shows that this problem is miniscule. According to the Center for Health Care Statistics, fewer than 7,500 births out of an annual 4,000,000 births are to mothers who report residing outside the country. And some of those mothers are U.S. citizens residing abroad as part of the community of 6,000,000 Americans who live overseas.
And perhaps the reason so few mothers come to the U.S. just to have a child is because the immigration benefits are not what these Republicans would have people believe. Children born in the United States cannot sponsor their parents for immigration benefits until after they turn 21 years of age.
Nevertheless, to the extent that there is a “maternity tourism” industry, the better approach to dealing with this is to enforce our existing laws that bar the use of visitor visas for such a purpose. Targeting companies and individuals engaged in this type of visa fraud would go a long way to curtailing this sort of activity.
2. Ending birthright citizenship would not end illegal immigration.
There is no evidence that immigrants come to the United States to have children. They come for jobs. Taking away birthright citizenship would not change this. What would happen is the number of illegally present immigrants would increase dramatically as many children of illegal immigrants are added to the ranks of the illegally present and who knows how many others would be added to the list of the undocumented because they are unable to prove citizenship even if they are entitled to it.
3. Implementing a Drastic Change to the 14th Amendment Would Be Enormously Difficult to Administer and Hugely Expensive.
Because U.S. citizenship laws are so complex and all Americans would no longer have the most basic proof of citizenship – the birth certificate – available, most would have to go through a legal process that would be expensive for the government and the individual. The government would need to hire thousands of lawyers and other examiners, and individuals would also need thousands of new lawyers to help with this process once we get through years of litigation to determine how we actually define citizenship and what is a fair way to prove it.
4. Where exactly do you draw the line?
One of the biggest potential problems with looking at something of this sort is figuring out which population to target. Just the children of illegally present immigrants? What about when one of the parents is a citizen and one is an illegally present immigrant? What about when the parents are unmarried. Does it matter if the father is the citizen as opposed to the mother? If not, in situations where the mother is not legally present and she is not married to the U.S. citizen father, the mother would need to first prove the paternity of the child, something that could be difficult or impossible particularly for individuals without the means to sue for paternity. Should it make a difference if the legally present parent is a lawful permanent resident and not a citizen? How about a legally present non-immigrant?
If the target is broader and we’re going after anyone whose parents are not permanent residents or citizens, does it matter what type of non-immigrant status the person holds? Should a tourist be treated differently than a student or a non-immigrant work visa holder? What about people working on non-immigrant visas but waiting on long lines for permanent residency such as Indian and Chinese advanced degree holders?
5. The citizenship of millions of Americans would suddenly come into doubt.
If birth in the United States is no longer proof of citizenship, a great number of people would have great difficulty proving they are entitled to citizenship. People would face extraordinary administrative obstacles and be forced to hire lawyers to prove entitlement to citizenship. Waits for passports would be extremely lengthy since for all people it would be the main way to prove they are American. Right now there is no registry of U.S. citizens and people generally rely on proving their birth in the U.S. to demonstrate citizenship. One survey by the Brennan Center at New York University found that more than 13 million people would not be easily able to prove their citizenship.
Many other questions would also naturally arise. What about the grandchildren of illegal immigrants? As noted above, figuring out what to do when one of the parents is legal and the other not raises a number of questions over how citizenship is transmitted in the absence of birthright acquisition. If citizenship is not defined by being born in the U.S., then how does one acquire citizenship? For most African Americans, citizenship was likely originally acquired in their families because of the 14th Amendment itself. Are only individuals who immigrated going to qualify? What about Native Americans?
A Pandora’s Box if there ever was one.
6. The American system of assimilating immigrants that has worked successfully for generations would be put under serious threat by creating a permanent two-tiered society with a permanent new underclass.
Taking away citizenship from the children of immigrants would mean more than just not being able to cast votes in elections. It means no driver’s licenses, no in-state tuition, no ability to work legally and so on. Instead, we would have a class of individuals with no real connection to any country other than the U.S., but no ability to become productive participants in our society. This new stateless class would be forced to live in the shadows. For some, they won’t be deportable because their parents’ countries are not legally obligated to take them. This new stateless group of individuals would be stuck in a limbo of not being able to participate in American society but having no other country to which to go as an alternative. Such individuals would be vulnerable to exploitation and criminal activity.
7. It’s a slap in the face to African Americans
After the Civil War, there were many, including President Andrew Johnson, who were prepared to continue to deny citizenship to slaves and their newly freed children because they were not “ready” to take on the responsibilities of citizenship. The Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed that no class of individuals would ever have to show they were up to snuff when it came to deserving citizenship, and it is the Fourteenth Amendment that has been the basis of major civil rights progress in the area of voter rights, equal access to justice, protection against workplace discrimination, etc.
The idea of scrapping birthright citizenship has been the cornerstone of nativist and racist organizations for some time and the fact that supposedly mainstream Republicans have suddenly started discussing this topic in polite company doesn’t make it less offensive. The sacrifice of countless individuals who gave their lives to win these rights is not honored by even having this discussion.
8. Birthright citizenship is in the Constitution precisely to avoid “the tyranny of the masses.”
The 14th Amendment is in place precisely to protect individuals from politicians with their own interests in mind as well as the sentiments of the time. The Constitution has only been amended 17 times since the Bill of Rights and never to take away civil rights from any class of people. The framers of the 14th Amendment made birthright citizenship an “inalienable” right and tampering with this really places into question whether our American system of rights and freedoms has been a failure.
9. Where do they stop?
The 14th Amendment has been in place since just after the Civil War and no Congress has ever opened the door to cutting out groups from its protection. Today the discussion involves the children of those illegally in the U.S. Some proposals seek to bar the children of anyone but lawful permanent residents and U.S. citizens. But what is to say that we don’t then move to stripping out other children of those who do not “deserve” to have their children awarded U.S. citizenship. Perhaps deny birthright citizenship to the children of those with criminal records? How about the children of same sex couples? What about where the parents express “anti-American” views? The folks pushing to repeal the 14th Amendment birthright citizenship rules are doing so to punish the behavior of the parents. Once we open the door, is it really that hard to envision pushing to add more and more groups?
10. Do we really want to start deporting babies?
That’s essentially what this proposal means. Is this really something our society has the stomach to do and is this really what Americans want to spend our tax dollars pursuing?
Even having a serious debate about this subject has the potential to tear society apart and the grownups in the GOP need to seize control and make it clear that the party does not endorse the idea. Aside from being the morally right thing to do, it’s also smart politics. At this point, the GOP is on the verge of so offending Hispanic voters in order to appease a tiny segment of the public that they risk losing the trust of Hispanics for generations.