Wetbacks All

In 1875 the United States Supreme Court ruled that the federal government is responsible for regulating immigration.

In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower urgently empowered the Immigration and Naturalization Service to “remove illegal immigrants, mostly Mexican nationals, from the southwestern United States.” The expulsion program’s official name was Operation Wetback. Border patrol, state and local police managed traffic stops and house-to-house searches. Fifty-thousand illegals were arrested in a few months. Fear drove as many as three-quarters of a million people to leave the country “of their own accord.”

This Land Is My Land

The history of human migration goes back hundreds of thousands of years. The original territory occupied by Homo sapiens gradually expanded from settlement areas in Africa to every continent. Increasingly accurate capacity to isolate and interpret details of human DNA makes tracking past movement possible.

One reality about migration hasn’t changed: After people take over a waterhole or territory, they do whatever they can to hold on to it. Yet less than 1% of humanity is living on the same land their ancestors occupied 10,000 years ago.

A Human Problem

Immigrant, émigré, refugee, migrant, displaced person and wetback are among many terms for a person who relocates, whether by force or of his own free will. The annual number of migrants globally is expected to surpass 400 million by mid-century. More than 200 million people migrated in 2010. Studies suggest that up to 1 billion people would migrate today if they were able to do so.

Why Migrate?

Everett S. Lee’s causes of migration include the following “push” and “pull” factors:

Push factors – not enough jobs, few opportunities, primitive conditions, desertification, famine or drought, political fear or persecution, slavery or forced labor, natural disasters, death threats, lack of political or religious freedom, pollution, discrimination, war

Pull factors – job opportunities, better living conditions, political and/or religious freedom, enjoyment, education, better medical care, attractive climates, security, family links, industry, better chance of marrying

Trail of Tears, Everywhere

When you think about immigrants, remember 50 million people left Europe for the Americas in the 19th century.

Many of the issues caused by forced and voluntary migration take centuries to resolve. For example, the cultural vestiges of the forced migration called the slave trade still haunt the United States of America.

Millions of Turkish Muslims, Orthodox Greeks and Armenians were forced to migrate after the First World War. Twelve million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims relocated after the Partition of India. Sixteen million Germans and millions of Poles were forced to move after World War II. The list goes on and on. Some of these relocations led to millions of deaths and terrible suffering.

Today, ethnic groups and peoples suffering from threats and pressure toward geographical relocation and cultural assimilation barely appear in world media. The presence and authority of hundreds of peoples in their native lands is challenged every day. These people include the Bahia in Iran, Palestinians in Palestine, Jewish people in Israel, Basques in Spain, Tibetans in China, Christians in Hindu India and Hindus in Sri Lanka.

Unresolved Challenges

Twenty-first century humanity will not be able to ignore the unresolved challenges of forced and freely chosen migration. Ross Douthat writes in The New York Times, “For all the right talk about multicultural mosaics, the age of globalization has also been an age of unprecedented religious and racial sorting – sometimes by choice, more often at gunpoint.”

Will Coptic Christians be driven from the land where their people have lived for thousands of years?

And what is to become of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States today?


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