During last’s night appalling mockery of a “debate”, Donald Trump used the stage to once again spew the xenophobic hate-speech he is so well-known for. When he announced his candidacy for the Republican ticket this summer, he did so by calling Mexicans “rapists and criminals.” His blatant racism catapulted him to the front of the GOP polls, and his refusal to back away from his preposterous claims has kept him there. Last night, with pathological liar Ben Carson creeping up on him in the polls, Trump decided he’d better remind the paranoid and delusional Republican voter base why they love him so much by endorsing Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Operation Wetback.”
While disputing John Kasich’s statement that deporting millions of undocumented immigrants wasn’t an “adult argument,” Trump praised Eisenhower’s controversial deportation program:
“Let me just tell you that Dwight Eisenhower—a good president, great president. People liked him. I liked Ike. [That’s the] expression. ‘I Like Ike.’ Moved a million and a half illegal immigrants out of this country, moved them just beyond the border: They came back. Moved them again, beyond the border: They came back. Then moved them way south. They never came back.”
This deportation plan that Trump is so fond of was called “Operation Wetback,” and it was one of the most reprehensible forced expulsions in American history. Eisenhower ripped nearly a million families apart by aggressively deporting undocumented immigrants, and the program was designed by then-Attorney Herbert Brownell Jr, whose original plan was to simply “shoot the wetbacks crossing into the U.S.” According to the Texas State Historical Association:
“Operation Wetback was a repatriation project of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service to remove undocumented Mexican immigrants (pejoratively referred to as “wetbacks”) from the Southwest. [It was] a national reaction against illegal immigration, began in Texas in mid-July 1954. Headed by the commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization Service, Gen. Joseph May Swing, the United States Border Patrol, aided by municipal, county, state, and federal authorities, as well as the military, began a quasi-military operation of search and seizure of all unauthorized immigrants.”
Immigrants were treated like they were less than human after they were rounded up for deportation. Hundreds of thousands of them were often dropped off in deserts when they were found crossing the border illegally. In one such case in 1955, hundreds of immigrants were dumped, without food or water, in the desert just south of Mexicali, Mexico. In the desert, where temperatures regularly reach 125 degrees, eighty-seven people died of heat stroke before the Red Cross stepped in.
The government also put about twenty-five percent of the deportees on cargo ships bound for Mexico. The quarters were so small and cramped that they have been described as resembling an “eighteenth century slave ship” and “penal hell ship.” According to the Washington Post:
These deportation procedures, detailed by historian Mae M. Ngai, were not anomalies. They were the essential framework of Operation Wetback — a concerted immigration law enforcement effort implemented by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954 — and the deportation model that Donald Trump says he intends to follow.
It’s no wonder Trump has praised the program, especially when the man in charge of it was just as disgusting as he is. General Sway thought it was necessary to rid the country of Hispanic migrant workers, because the “alarming, ever increasing, flood tide” of “disease ridden” immigrants was an “actual invasion of the United States.” In July, Trump mirrored Sway’s opinions when he said,”Tremendous infectious disease is pouring across the border. The United States has become a dumping ground for Mexico and, in fact, for many other parts of the world.”
Let’s forget for a moment that everything Trump has said about undocumented immigrants has been proven to be completely unfounded, and just look at the way he wants to treat millions of people. He thinks dropping thousands of people — men, women and children — off in the desert was “humane.” He believes that stuffing human beings into tiny spaces on ships that resemble slave ship is perfectly fine. This man is leading the Republican Party’s primary and he has said that he supports committing heinous human rights violations, because he doesn’t like brown people. That is absolutely terrifying.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.