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Operation Wetback
Digital History ID 593

Author:   George Stith

Annotation: Between 1950 and 1955, the federal government launched a massive effort to round up and deport undocumented workers, termed "wetbacks" or "mojados" because many had crossed the Rio Grande River to reach the United States. During the period, the federal government carried out 3.8 million expulsions (some Mexicans may have been expelled more than once). Attorney General Herbert Brownell, Jr. claimed that the operation was to prevent the entrance of subversives. Highly publicized in advance, Operation Wetback was meant to encourage undocumented aliens to leave voluntarily as well as to deport them. In 1954, a million undocumented workers were returned to Mexico. Many were shipped across the border without recourse to due process. A symbol of the new attitude toward Mexican immigration was the construction of a barbed wire fence along the border during the 1950s. The Asociacion Nacional Mexico-Americana was established in 1950 to prevent the separation of family members and the expulsion of people who had lived in the United States for many years.

In these selections, native-born farmworkers complain about competition from foreign laborers in 1952 Congressional hearings. The first piece of testimony comes from George Stith, an agricultural worker on a Gould, Arkansas, cotton plantation.

Document: The importation of Mexican nationals into Arkansas did not begin until the fall of 1949. Cotton-picking wages in my section were good. We were getting $4 per 100 pounds for picking. As soon as the Mexicans were brought in the wages started falling. Wages were cut to $3.25 and $3 per 100 pounds. In many cases local farm workers could not get jobs at all.... I think there were about 25,000 Mexican nationals hired in 1949. In 1950 there was a small crop of cotton but more Mexicans were brought in to pick cotton and it was all picked out before the end of October. The cotton plantation owners kept the Mexicans at work and would not employ Negro and white pickers.

Source: Migratory Labor. Hearings before Subcommittee on Labor and Labor-Management Relations. 82nd Congress, 2nd Session.

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