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Claims About the Federal Government's "Operation Wetback"-Truth! & Fiction!

Claims About the Federal Government’s “Operation Wetback” –Truth! & Fiction! 

Summary of eRumor:
A chain email claims that a federal effort to deport illegal aliens in the 1950s called “Operation Wetback” led to the removal of 13 million illegal aliens.
The Truth:
Operation Wetback was a real government program, but it didn’t deport 13 million illegals.
The “Operation Wetback” email has been around for years. The email resurfaced when immigration reform became a heated issue in the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign.
That led many to wonder if claims made in the email about Operation Wetback, and the number of deportations from 1953-1954, are true:

in 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower deported 13 million Mexican Nationals! The program was called ‘Operation Wetback’.. It was done so WWII and Korean Veterans would have a better chance at jobs. It took 2 Years, but they deported them! Now. … if they could deport the illegal’s back then — they could sure do it today

Again, Operation Wetback was a real government program, but it didn’t lead to 13 million deportations, as the email claims.
Operation Wetback was launched in response to the Bracero Program, which allowed millions of Mexican men work in the U.S. on short-term labor contracts. About 4.6 million labor contracts were awarded through the program, which operated from 1942-1964, the Barcero History Archive reports:

The Bracero Program was created by executive order in 1942 because many growers argued that World War II would bring labor shortages to low-paying agricultural jobs. On August 4, 1942 the United States concluded a temporary intergovernmental agreement for the use of Mexican agricultural labor on United States farms (officially referred to as the Mexican Farm Labor Program), and the influx of legal temporary Mexican workers began. But the program lasted much longer than anticipated. In 1951, after nearly a decade in existence, concerns about production and the U.S. entry into the Korean conflict led Congress to formalize the Bracero Program with Public Law 78.

Mexico demanded that Texas be excluded from the Bracero Program because of “widespread violations of contracts, discrimination against migrant workers, and such violations of their civil rights.” That led to “freelance coyotes” illegally bringing migrant workers into Texas for unregulated farm work and an increase in the number of illegal aliens in the state, and elsewhere in the southwest, the Texas State Historical Commission reports:

Increasing grievances from various Mexican officials in the United States and Mexico prompted the Mexican government to rescind the bracero agreement and cease the export of Mexican workers. The United States Immigration Service, under pressure from various agricultural groups, retaliated against Mexico in 1951 by allowing thousands of illegals to cross the border, arresting them, and turning them over to the Texas Employment Commission, which delivered them to work for various grower groups in Texas and elsewhere. Over the long term, this action by the federal government, in violation of immigration laws and the agreement with Mexico, caused new problems for Texas. Between 1944 and 1954, “the decade of the wetback.” the number of illegal aliens coming from Mexico increased by 6,000 percent.

The boom of illegal aliens coming to the U.S. led to the launch of Operation Wetback in May 1953. The program marked “the beginning of modern deportation raids and the militarization of the border.” Operation Wetback continued through the fall of 1954, Oklahoma State University’s History Department reports:

For years before Operation Wetback, agribusiness used its economic prowess to control the U.S. Border Patrol’s enforcement of federal immigration law. On some occasions, Border Patrol and INS officials would simply look the other way when they encountered undocumented immigrants or, in some cases, legalize them on the spot to avoid disrupting an employer’s’ workforce, especially during peak harvest seasons.

Operation Wetback was supposed to mark a shift in these power dynamics by diminishing agribusiness’s control and asserting federal authority. The tension between employers looking for cheap labor and the federal government enforcing immigration laws remains today.

The email’s claim that 13 million illegal aliens were deported under Operation Wetback is false. Initially, the INS said that 1.3 million illegal aliens had been apprehended under the program, but even that figure was later proven false, according to OSU:

It is difficult to estimate the number of illegal aliens forced to leave by the operation. The INS claimed as many as 1,300,000, though the number officially apprehended did not come anywhere near this total. The INS estimate rested on the claim that most aliens, fearing apprehension by the government, had voluntarily repatriated themselves before and during the operation. The San Antonio district, which included all of Texas outside of El Paso and the Trans-Pecos, had officially apprehended slightly more than 80,000 aliens, and local INS officials claimed that an additional 500,000 to 700,000 had fled to Mexico before the campaign began. Many commentators have considered these figures to be exaggerated.

Stats on the number of historical deportations also contradict the claim that 13 million illegal aliens were deported under Operation Wetback. From 1951-1960, there were a total of 150,472 “formal removals” and about 3.9 million “voluntary departures” of illegal aliens, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.