Trump loves Eisenhower deportation program “Operation Wetback.”

Eisenhower Deportation Program Trump Loves So Much Was Called “Operation Wetback” and Was Brutal

Eisenhower Deportation Program Trump Loves So Much Was Called “Operation Wetback” and Was Brutal

The Slatest
Your News Companion
Nov. 10 2015 10:46 PM

Trump Praises Eisenhower’s Deportation Program, Fails to Mention It Was Called “Operation Wetback”

151110-gop-trump
Donald Trump at the Fox Business Network’s Republican presidential primary debate on Nov. 10, 2015 in Milwaukee.

Reuters/Darren Hauck

GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s plan to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants from the United States has been criticized, even by some fellow immigration hawks, as highly unrealistic. But at Tuesday night’s Fox Business debate, he cited a historical precedent:

Let me just tell you that Dwight Eisenhower, good president, great president, people liked him. I like Ike, right? The expression. I like Ike. Moved a million and a half illegal immigrants out of this country, moved them just beyond the border. They came back. Moved them again, beyond the border, they came back. Didn’t like it. Moved them way south. They never came back. Dwight Eisenhower. You don’t get nicer, you don’t get friendlier.
Advertisement

He did not mention the name of that program: “Operation Wetback.”

Not surprisingly, Trump also missed some vital context. He failed to note that the operation was accompanied by the Bracero Program, which allowed millions of Mexicans to enter the U.S. on temporary work visas.

It is true that Operation Wetback, which Trump has cited before, did indeed deport more than a million illegal immigrants—known pejoratively as wetbacks—by a variety of methods, driving many of them deep into Mexico to prevent them from returning. Many were transported on cargo boats from Port Isabel, Texas, to Veracruz in an operation that a congressional investigation likened to an “18th century slave ship.” A riot broke out on one transport. Seven were drowned after jumping ship on another. Others were simply dumped over the border. In one roundup, 88 people died from heat stroke. Train-lifts across the borders were described by observers as “indescribable scenes of human misery and tragedy.”

The program was the brainchild of Attorney General Herbert Brownell, who initially wanted to simply “shoot wetbacks crossing into the U.S.” He eventually abandoned the plan because farmers feared the loss of cheap labor.

It’s not exactly a proud moment in American history or a bright spot on Eisenhower’s record, however “nice” he may have been.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and author of the forthcoming book, Invisible Countries.