Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Right Stuff: Operation Wetback

Lt. Gen. Joseph "Jumpin' Joe" Swing

Note from Radarsite: A hat tip to Wake Up America
And an ironical Thank You to commenter Dee who, by deciding to use this almost-forgotten Operation Wetback as an example of American cruelty to Mexicans, brought this magnificent historical precedent to our attention.

Cross posted from the Christian Science Monitor
How Eisenhower solved illegal border crossings from Mexico
By John Dillin WASHINGTON –

Fifty-three years ago, when newly elected Dwight Eisenhower moved into the White House, America's southern frontier was as porous as a spaghetti sieve. As many as 3 million illegal migrants had walked and waded northward over a period of several years for jobs in California, Arizona, Texas, and points.

President Eisenhower cut off this illegal traffic. He did it quickly and decisively with only 1,075 United States Border Patrol agents - less than one-tenth of today's force. The operation is still highly praised among veterans of the Border Patrol.

Although there is little to no record of this operation in Ike's official papers, one piece of historic evidence indicates how he felt. In 1951, Ike wrote a letter to Sen. William Fulbright (D) of Arkansas. The senator had just proposed that a special commission be created by Congress to examine unethical conduct by government officials who accepted gifts and favors in exchange for special treatment of private individuals.

General Eisenhower, who was gearing up for his run for the presidency, said "Amen" to Senator Fulbright's proposal. He then quoted a report in The New York Times, highlighting one paragraph that said: "The rise in illegal border-crossing by Mexican 'wetbacks' to a current rate of more than 1,000,000 cases a year has been accompanied by a curious relaxation in ethical standards extending all the way from the farmer-exploiters of this contraband labor to the highest levels of the Federal Government."
Years later, the late Herbert Brownell Jr., Eisenhower's first attorney general, said in an interview with this writer that the president had a sense of urgency about illegal immigration when he took office. America "was faced with a breakdown in law enforcement on a very large scale," Mr. Brownell said. "When I say large scale, I mean hundreds of thousands were coming in from Mexico [every year] without restraint."

Although an on-and-off guest-worker program for Mexicans was operating at the time, farmers and ranchers in the Southwest had become dependent on an additional low-cost, docile, illegal labor force of up to 3 million, mostly Mexican, laborers.
According to the Handbook of Texas Online, published by the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas State Historical Association, this illegal workforce had a severe impact on the wages of ordinary working Americans. The Handbook Online reports that a study by the President's Commission on Migratory Labor in Texas in 1950 found that cotton growers in the Rio Grande Valley, where most illegal aliens in Texas worked, paid wages that were "approximately half" the farm wages paid elsewhere in the state.

Profits from illegal labor led to the kind of corruption that apparently worried Eisenhower. Joseph White, a retired 21-year veteran of the Border Patrol, says that in the early 1950s, some senior US officials overseeing immigration enforcement "had friends among the ranchers," and agents "did not dare" arrest their illegal workers.

Walt Edwards, who joined the Border Patrol in 1951, tells a similar story. He says: "When we caught illegal aliens on farms and ranches, the farmer or rancher would often call and complain [to officials in El Paso]. And depending on how politically connected they were, there would be political intervention. That is how we got into this mess we are in now."
Bill Chambers, who worked for a combined 33 years for the Border Patrol and the then-called US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), says politically powerful people are still fueling the flow of illegals.
During the 1950s, however, this "Good Old Boy" system changed under Eisenhower - if only for about 10 years.
In 1954, Ike appointed retired Gen. Joseph "Jumpin' Joe" Swing, a former West Point classmate and veteran of the 101st Airborne, as the new INS commissioner.

Influential politicians, including Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson (D) of Texas and Sen. Pat McCarran (D) of Nevada, favored open borders, and were dead set against strong border enforcement, Brownell said. But General Swing's close connections to the president shielded him - and the Border Patrol - from meddling by powerful political and corporate interests.

One of Swing's first decisive acts was to transfer certain entrenched immigration officials out of the border area to other regions of the country where their political connections with people such as Senator Johnson would have no effect.

Then on June 17, 1954, what was called "Operation Wetback" began. Because political resistance was lower in California and Arizona, the roundup of aliens began there. Some 750 agents swept northward through agricultural areas with a goal of 1,000 apprehensions a day. By the end of July, over 50,000 aliens were caught in the two states. Another 488,000, fearing arrest, had fled the country. By mid-July, the crackdown extended northward into Utah, Nevada, and Idaho, and eastward to Texas. By September, 80,000 had been taken into custody in Texas, and an estimated 500,000 to 700,000 illegals had left the Lone Star State voluntarily.

Unlike today, Mexicans caught in the roundup were not simply released at the border, where they could easily reenter the US. To discourage their return, Swing arranged for buses and trains to take many aliens deep within Mexico before being set free.
Tens of thousands more were put aboard two hired ships, the Emancipation and the Mercurio. The ships ferried the aliens from Port Isabel, Texas, to Vera Cruz, Mexico, more than 500 miles south. The sea voyage was "a rough trip, and they did not like it," says Don Coppock, who worked his way up from Border Patrolman in 1941 to eventually head the Border Patrol from 1960 to 1973.

Mr. Coppock says he "cannot understand why [President] Bush let [today's] problem get away from him as it has. I guess it was his compassionate conservatism, and trying to please [Mexican President] Vincente Fox."

There are now said to be 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens in the US. Of the Mexicans who live here, an estimated 85 percent are here illegally.

• John Dillin is former managing editor of the Monitor.

A footnote: For those who say that this could not be done today, please use the above link and read the full CSM article and see what our current Border Agents have to say. -- rg

For a synopsis of Gen. Swing's
remarkable military career see here:


  1. Right on Roger. Did you see her pathetic blog? She's in Texas and whining about how all the url's I gave her were anti-illegal. What a maroon--oh, and she's going to "report us" to KOS and those crazies! ROTFLMAO!

    Great article--she didn't like my take on Operation Wetback and thought she'd "school" me on it--too bad she don't know Miss Beth, do she?

  2. We need our own Operation Wetback. And a good stiff fine on businesses who employ illegal immigrants.

  3. Findalis, we have the employer sanctions law here in Arizona which provides very stiff penalties, up to and including revoking business licenses for hiring illegals and not properly using e-verify. Since the law went into effect January, 2008, there have been several challenges, all of which have lost. Illegals are beginning to self-deport back to Mexico (in fact, Sonora sent delegates to Arizona to COMPLAIN THEY CAN'T HANDLE THE INFLUX OF THEIR RETURNING CITIZENS), and are doing so in such numbers apartments are feeling the pinch of illegals leaving in the middle of the night and businesses catering to illegals are going bankrupt.

    It's a beautiful thing when the laws in place are 1) enforced and 2) work.

  4. It's a beautiful thing when the laws in place are 1) enforced and 2) work.
    Right on! That's exactly what I'm talking about. Maybe, just maybe, if people start to see the difference it just might start happening. Damn. It sure seems like a rare good sign.
    We've already got an effective law on Sedition (which I'm sure Miss B. knows all about) that, if actually implemented, could start shutting down mosques and deporting hate-preaching immams right now. If only we would start using them. I'm still holding out hope.

  5. Arizona is lucky. I lived for 12 years in California. The good neighborhoods that had good schools went down hill after wave after wave of illegal immigrants arrived. Property values dropped and crime went up. Moved out 5 years ago to Chicago, and it is the same here. Thinking of moving to Sderot. No illegals there, just rockets.

  6. General Swing was the wartime comanding general of the Army's
    11th Airborne Division in the Pacific.

  7. Eisenhower wasn't the only American president to kick wetbacks out. There was a prior president who did it but I for the life of me do not recall his name.

    Dee suffers from neurotic psychpathology and the SALAD syndrome we see far too often from left wingers. To call them brain dead is a misnomer since they lack a brain in the first place. Air head might be more appropriate.

  8. Great opening discussion on this topic, and one which John Dillin, CSM, opens with proof that this type of action has precedent. (Frankly, I worry that the "W-- B---" word would be proscribed like the "N word".
    As I write above, it is a good opening.
    Each time this matter (military being used to take part in anything other than providing airlifts for the stricken serving NGO's for blundering efforts on behalf of Wilsonian Edens)surfaces, we're bound to hear someone cry out "Posse Comitatus", as though there was a shark attack on Nantucket.
    Dillin's article might suggest someone was asleep at the Liberal Lair in the Fifties.
    On the other hand someone was still living who remembered, witnessed or even took part in the Pershing Pursuit of Pancho.
    To cite the reasons for Pershings "Punitive Expedition" was an event described thus:
    "At approximately 4:17 am on March 9, 1916, Villa's troops attacked Columbus, New Mexico and its local detachment of the U.S. 13th Regiment. They killed 14 American soldiers, 10 civilians, raped one woman, burned the town, took many horses and mules, seized available machine guns, ammunition and merchandise, before they returned to Mexico."
    So, I'd suggest that Eisenhower was funtioning fairly safely within the realm of precedent.
    (Hmmn, 24 soldiers and citizens on US soil. 3000 plus on 9/11? Hold tht thought. No. Better yet; run with it.).
    Well, it's a thought option.
    And while, I wish to respect your space, allow me to suggest the following: Myth of Posse Comitatus, It's a little pre-argument ammo when the ACLU opens another "Gong Show" - as you know they will.