Mexican deportations of 1931 Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The deportations highlighted white Americans’ anti-immigrant sentiments and encouraged resentment on behalf of both Mexican nationals and Mexican Americans.

After the Great Depression struck in 1929, rapidly rising unemployment provoked white Americans to perceive Mexican nationals and even Mexican Americans as the main source of competition for jobs. Anti-immigrant, and particularly anti-Mexican, sentiment was on the rise, as white Americans deemed themselves more worthy of relief aid and jobs than “foreigners” in the country.Mexican immigrants;deportation ofCalifornia;Mexican immigrantsCalifornia;mass deportationsDeportationGreat Depression;and Mexican immigrants[Mexican immigrants]Mexican immigrants;deportation ofCalifornia;Mexican immigrantsCalifornia;mass deportationsDeportationGreat Depression;and Mexican immigrants[Mexican immigrants][cat]AGRICULTURAL WORKERS;Mexican deportations of1931[03460][cat]MEXICAN IMMIGRANTS;Mexican deportations of 1931[03460][cat]EMIGRATION;Mexican deportations of 1931[03460][cat]EVENTS AND MOVEMENTS;Mexican deportations of 1931[03460][cat]ANTI-IMMIGRANT MOVEMENTS AND POLICIES;Mexican deportations of 1931[03460][cat]DEPORTATION;Mexican deportations of 1931[03460][cat]NATIVISM;Mexican deportations of 1931[03460]

In order to quell white Americans’ anxiety and desperation during the Great Depression, Secretary of Labor Doak, William N.William N. Doak, under the administration of President Hoover, HerbertHerbert Hoover, enacted various policies to repatriate at least 100,000 deportable Mexicans of the 400,000 undocumented Mexican immigrants in the United States. The purpose of repatriation was to send idle Mexican workers back to their homeland, save social welfare agencies money, and produce jobs for white Americans. The first nine months of 1931 saw the greatest numbers of Mexicans leaving the United States at once, especially from the Los Angeles area. Authorities such as Visel, Charles P.Charles P. Visel, director of the Los Angeles Citizens’ Committee on Coordination of Unemployment Relief, took actions to create a hostile environment for Mexican immigrants to “encourage” their repatriation. Consequently, both ordered and “voluntary” repatriations ensued, as some Mexican nationals sought refuge from increased unemployment and discrimination in the United States, while others were forced to leave.

The Deportations

The mass exodus may have affected as many as two million people of Mexican ancestry, half of whom had been born in the United States. Authorities ignored the fact that some of the repatriated people were naturalized U.S. citizens and that others were citizens by virtue of birth in the United States. Merely having a Spanish surname could subject a person to screening. Deportation raids of public and private spaces occurred all over the country, as Mexicans were not isolated to specific regions, working in both industrial sectors as well as migrant farmworker communities.

The federal government allowed cities, counties, and states to manage repatriation as deemed necessary. Nativism Xenophobia;and Mexican immigrants[Mexican immigrants]Nativism;and Mexican immigrants[Mexican immigrants]and xenophobia during this period caused inhumane treatment of Mexicans in the United States, as people were repatriated ruthlessly via various modes of transportation, including ships, trains, cars, trucks, and buses. Parents were torn from their children, and husbands and wives were separated. Hospital patients, mentally ill people, and elderly people were also repatriated. Altogether, Mexican families and even those with American citizens as their members were torn apart.

Nonetheless, some American groups were opposed to these repatriations, especially the ranchers and agricultural growers in the Southwest who needed Mexicans as a source of cheap and exploitable labor. Mexicans, these growers claimed, did the work that other Americans were unwilling to do. The repatriation policy threatened the businesses of these growers, as they could lose crops. Merchants too realized that Mexicans were integral to their businesses. During the repatriations, merchants lost profits from their loyal Mexican customers. Moreover, bankers were concerned as Mexicans withdrew their money as they anticipated repatriation. Despite such opposition, repatriates continued to be pushed southward.Mexican immigrants;deportation ofCalifornia;Mexican immigrantsCalifornia;mass deportationsDeportationGreat Depression;and Mexican immigrants[Mexican immigrants]

Further Reading
  • Acuña, Rodolfo F. Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. 6th ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007.
  • Balderrama, Francisco, and Raymond Rodríguez. Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930’s. Rev. ed. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006.
  • Vargas, Zaragosa. Labor Rights Are Civil Rights: Mexican American Workers in Twentieth-Century America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005.

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Great Depression

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Mexican immigrants

Operation Wetback


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