A few days ago, Los Angeles County issued a much-deserved formal apology for its campaign to deport Mexicans in the 1930s.
Anti-immigrant anger at the time of the Great Depression led to almost 2 million people being expelled to Mexico-hundreds of thousands of them citizens of Mexican-American origin who were mistaken for foreigners. The mass raids at Plaza Olvera are among the saddest pages of our city’s history.
This public act of contrition serves to reflect on how times have changed in almost eight decades and also how prejudice still persists after such a long time.
Today, there are no more mass raids in public settings and families are not crowded into train wagons like cattle either. In this age-also of economic crisis-local authorities are allowed to work with immigration, as is the case with Secure Communities. Although everything is handled more subtly than before, record numbers of deportations and separated families say it all. Even once in a while, an incompetent immigration officer deports an American citizen.
The changes in deportation priorities the White House recently established are positive. However, they don’t correct a past when working people were deported under a law designed for dangerous criminals.
This also brings up the question that if all that was required to refocus the target of Secure Communities was an internal order, why wasn’t this decision made until an election year?
There is a feeling of disappointment with the White House, which is not resolved with a new election promise of immigration reform like the one the president announced yesterday.
Meanwhile, the proposals of GOP presidential candidates are sickening. Mitt Romney talks about making life impossible for undocumented immigrants so they self-deport. Newt Gingrich has a more humane focus with a more confusing implementation. And it isn’t hard to imagine Rick Santorum fitting in with the raids of the 1930s because of his hard-line position.
Undocumented immigrants have been the favorite scapegoats throughout history. But these immigrants are also a necessary workforce that helps our country progress. In the past, this contradiction was addressed with fear, hate and deportations. We hope today it is solved with intelligence, pragmatism and a comprehensive immigration reform.