NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 7, 2006

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, says the Christian Science Monitor.  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 beyond.

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, says the Monitor: 

  • In 1954, Ike appointed retired Gen. Joseph "Jumpin' Joe" Swing as the new Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) commissioner. 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 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 into Utah, Nevada, and Idaho, and 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 United States.  To discourage their return, Swing arranged for buses and trains to take many aliens deep within Mexico before being set free.

Source: John Dillin, "How Eisenhower solved illegal border crossings from Mexico," Christian Science Monitor, July 6, 2006.

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