OPINION

Geraldo Rivera: Bringing back the shame of 'Operation Wetback'

MILWAUKEE, WI - NOVEMBER 10:  Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives an interview in the spin room after the Republican Presidential Debate sponsored by Fox Business and the Wall Street Journal at the Milwaukee Theatre on November 10, 2015 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The fourth Republican debate is held in two parts, one main debate for the top eight candidates, and another for four other candidates lower in the current polls.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

MILWAUKEE, WI - NOVEMBER 10: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives an interview in the spin room after the Republican Presidential Debate sponsored by Fox Business and the Wall Street Journal at the Milwaukee Theatre on November 10, 2015 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The fourth Republican debate is held in two parts, one main debate for the top eight candidates, and another for four other candidates lower in the current polls. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)  (2015 Getty Images)

During last night’s GOP presidential debate on Fox Business, @RealDonaldTrump invoked a melancholy chapter in American history, heaping praise on a draconian 1954 federal initiative to forcibly deport tens of thousands of undocumented Mexican immigrants. To prevent repeat violators, the immigrant’s heads were often shaven so they would stand out to the Border Patrol. Many immigrants complained of beatings and abuse. 

To prevent their attempts to return, thousands of them, many hailing from border towns close to the United States, were sent by ship, bus and train to areas deep inside Mexico and far from their homes.

@JebBush and @JohnKasick are right. The fabric of our society will be torn asunder by this return to this shameful chapter of forced deportations, now, of 11 million of our friends and neighbors.

- Geraldo Rivera

As with Mr. Trump’s current plan, many Mexican-born U.S.-citizens were swept up with the truly undocumented. Citizen children were often forced out along with their parents. Stranded far from familiar territory, many struggled to find their way. In a single month, July 1955, 88 deported workers died in the scorching heat of the Sonora desert.

The Eisenhower Administration had broad support for these harsh measures in this era before the Civil Rights movement. Most of these workers, called “Braceros,” had been invited to work the farms, fields and factories of the South-West during World War II when our young men were abroad and labor was short. 

When our GI’s came home, the Braceros had to go. Even our secular saint, the United Farm Worker Union founder Cesar Chavez, backed the plan to keep these Braceros from complicating his efforts to unionize the farms of California’s Central Valley.

But history has come to regard “Operation Wetback” as a shocking reminder of our federal government run amok. I compare it to the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, where the U.S. government pretended to treat rural African-American men in Alabama between 1932 and 1972, only to let them suffer and die for research and, some presumed, social good.

@JebBush and @JohnKasich are right. The fabric of our society will be torn asunder by this return to this shameful chapter of forced deportations, now, of 11 million of our friends and neighbors. And for any candidate to suggest that it will be a good thing to throw out not only these otherwise law-abiding and hard-working adults, millions of whom have been here for a decade and more, but also to throw out their citizen-born children is, as Trump suggests, reminiscent of “Operation Wetback.”

As such, it would be an intolerable return to the bad, old days.

Geraldo Rivera currently serves as a roaming correspondent-at-large for Fox News Channel. He joined the network in 2001 as a war correspondent.

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