Feb 13, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Trump's promised mass deportations would be met with resistance

Unaccompanied migrant Mexican American children sit by a tree in 1935.

Unaccompanied migrant Mexican American children found by the Farm Security Administration in 1935. Photo: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The mass deportations that former President Trump has promised will take place if he's re-elected could cause shock waves in the economy and disrupt communities — but, unlike similar efforts in the past, they'd be met with resistance from Latino civil rights groups and elected officials.

Why it matters: Two previous mass deportations of Mexicans and Mexican Americans in U.S. history caused trauma for generations of people.

Catch up fast: At rallies, Trump has said he would launch "the largest deportation operation in American history" and end birthright citizenship as outlined in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

  • Trump wants to mobilize ICE agents — along with the FBI, federal prosecutors, the National Guard, and even local law enforcement officers — to carry out deportations.

Flashback: The "repatriation" during the Great Depression involved pressure from state and local governments on Mexicans and Mexican Americans to "return" to Mexico amid high unemployment in the U.S. and violent anti-Mexican sentiment. About a million people, most of whom were coerced, left.

  • The Eisenhower-era "Operation Wetback" used military-style tactics to round up 1.3 million Mexicans and Mexican Americans across the country in the 1950s for the-then largest deportation operation in U.S. history. "Wetback" is a racial slur for Mexicans.
  • Both mass deportations snatched up American citizens who had been racially profiled.

Between the lines: Those previous mass deportations came when U.S. Latinos had few civil rights organizations and little political power, with almost no elected officials at any level.

  • Today, there are elected Latinos in federal, state and local offices and well-organized civil rights and advocacy groups who vow to fight any mass deportations, David J. Bier, associate director of immigration studies at the Cato Institute, tells Axios.
  • "Back in 1954, certainly we didn't have members of Congress. We didn't have lawyers. We didn't have judges. But more than anything, we didn't have the voting population that we have today," says U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas).

What they're saying: "We would push back in every way that we can, through the courts, through organizing...every single way that we could to protect the communities that we represent," U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) tells Axios.

  • U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) tells Axios she will join any lawsuit to stop Trump's mass deportations.
  • Immigrant advocacy groups today also can lean on private citizens and churches who've created a network of hideouts and safe houses in the U.S., as they did in the 1980s to protect Central Americans who had fled civil wars from being deported.

Yes, but: Governors in Republican-led states have indicated Trump would have some allies for his program.

  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has sought to use the Texas National Guard to halt migrants from entering the country and has courted Christian nationalists who have threatened violence against them.

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