The Unspoken Horror of Mexican Repatriation


Mexican Americans, many of them being U.S. Citizens, have a history being deported across the border in a process called repatriation.

Between the years of 1929 to 1936, America committed an atrocity against all Mexican-Americans, yet the history books have turned a blind eye. During this time, two million Mexican-Americans were forcibly deported, “repatriated,” and 60% of those deported were American citizens. The anti-Latinx sentiment was at large in America because, during the Great Depression, Americans felt as though Mexican immigrants had stolen their jobs; sound familiar?

To understand repatriation in the 1930s, it is important to overview the history of Mexican immigration dating back to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. In 1848, following the Mexican American War, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, giving the U.S. half of all Mexican Territory including present-day Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, California, Utah, Colorado, Nevada and Wyoming. In return, the U.S. paid Mexico $15 million. 

With the new territory also came new citizens, Mexicans living in what was previously Mexico. The U.S. granted citizenship with full civil rights to all who chose to stay, however, this didn’t prevent de facto oppression and violence charged by anti-Latinx sentiment. 

“In 1851, for example, a mob of vigilantes accused Josefa Segovia of murdering a white man. After a fake trial, they marched her through the streets and lynched her.” Not even children were safe from the violence. “In 1911, a mob of over 100 people hanged a 14-year-old boy, Antonio Gómez.” Despite the violence, Mexican American immigrants fueled the U.S. economy as they worked to build railroads, taking part in one of the greatest American infrastructure revolutions.

Simultaneously, the Mexican revolution was at large since 1910 creating political discourse and instability for many citizens in Mexico. The U.S. became appealing to many Mexicans who wanted to escape the turmoil in their country, and many began to see the U.S. as a safe haven. The influx of immigrants only rose, continuously, from about 20,000 a year in the 1910s, to 50,000 a year in the early 1920s. This merely fanned the flames of Latinx discrimination in America.

Finally, in 1929, the Great Depression slammed America with utter economic destruction. Based on nothing more than the discriminatory, arguably racist, logic that Mexicans were stealing jobs from “Americans,” upwards of 1.8 million Mexican citizens were forcibly “repatriated.” The deportations were carried out by local governments and officials and the process was offhand. 

Under the Plenary Power Doctrine, immigration regulation is a power vested in the federal government, not states, let alone government at the local level. However, because the deportations were called “repatriation” and not explicitly called “deportation,” there was no legal challenge. Those deported were not given a hearing and their documents were disregarded and unimportant to officials. Joseph Dunn was a California senator who conducted research on the incident. “Dunn estimates around 60 percent of these people were actually American citizens.” 

Despite the immorality and unconstitutionality of repatriation, there’s a certain comicality to it all in terms of “bettering the country.” According to Becky Little, a writer for, modern economists who’ve studied the effect of the 1930s ‘repatriation drives’ on cities argue the raids did not boost local economies,” nor did the drives end the depression, as it lasted three years after the raids ended. 

Ironically, less than a decade after repatriation ended in 1936, President Truman signed the Bracero Program into law in 1942; so after all of the arguably unnecessary work to deport 2 million Mexican Americans in the 1930s for “stealing American jobs,” the president of the U.S. wrote an executive order and asked for the labor back.

A total of 4.2 million Mexicans immigrated to America as braceros, when repatriation is taken into consideration, that the total number is halved. So, not only has America proved itself senselessly discriminatory, counter-intuitive and frankly vacuous when it comes to greasing the cogs of its own economical machine, but it seems as though we have the notion that it is impossible to do so without oppressing minority groups. At the very least we, as Americans, can be proud that we have left these ideas in the past and have proved that we learned from our prior mistakes throughout history.

What do you think?