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History Repeated: Arizona Immigration Law No Different from the Past

As the Arizona immigration law is debated, a Texas Tech immigration expert says the law is no different than ones of the past.

Written by John Davis

The Arizona immigration law is no different than the Repatriation Act of the 1930s or Operation Wetback of the 1950s.

The Arizona immigration law is no different than the Repatriation Act of the 1930s or Operation Wetback of the 1950s.

While politicians, law enforcement officials and citizens of every background stand divided over a recent Arizona immigration law designed to secure the state’s borders from illegal immigrants, a Texas Tech expert on immigration and border history says that the law is no different than the Repatriation Act of the 1930s or Operation Wetback of the 1950s.

Miguel Levario, an assistant professor of history, says that even since the days of the Gold Rush when Mexican-American residents of California were required to carry ID cards, the Arizona law is just the latest in a series of laws and events targeted specifically at Mexican-Americans.

Economics and Social Pressure

“It comes down to economics and social pressure,” Levario said. “Operation Wetback in the 1950s, which was a very intense enforcement of immigration, was very short-lived because of the economic fallout. They airlifted and bused immigrants out of the U.S. who would then come right back. It didn’t last long because it was too costly, and farmers complained about losing their labor force.”

Levario said that with this particular Arizona law, social pressure is quite heavy, and some businesses are already experiencing revenue losses from boycotts of cities and other organizations.

Personally, Levario believes the law to be “horrendous racial profiling” that in essence criminalizes the Mexican-American population, and that it assumes anyone of Mexican descent is illegal until proven otherwise.

Separation is Key

His recommendations are complex and lengthy, but Levario said first and foremost, that immigration, drug smuggling and national security are not the same animal and must be addressed individually.

“A blanket approach to those three major border issues has not worked, and does not require a one-size-fits-all solution. Immigration is a labor issue in large part, not national security,” Levario said.

Drug smuggling has been an age-old problem since prohibition and the government is still basically recycling age-old, useless policies, Levario said. More money, more soldiers and more personnel have not stopped the flow of illegal drugs.

“Drug consumption continues to go up; drug smuggling continues to go up. Violence is becoming more and more intense, especially recently, so putting more money on the border has been ineffective; more soldiers have been ineffective,” Levario said. “So we need to rethink these particular issues – national security, drug smuggling and immigration – and get away from the idea that one size fits all.”

Levario said that other border states could certainly copy the Arizona law, noting that legislators from Dumas, in the Texas Panhandle, and Tomball, in the Houston area, have already gone on record supporting such a measure.

Gov. Rick Perry has politicized the issue, according to Levario, in that he is unwilling to take a stand on passing any legislation similar to Arizona’s, and has gone on record saying that such a measure would not work in Texas.

Levario said that does not mean Perry is a supporter of immigrant rights or reform. Even in the past few months, Perry has proposed resurrecting the early-20th century Texas Rangers, patrolling the border on horseback, which, according to Levario, has not been done since the 1930s, largely because of the violence and terrorist acts committed by the agents against Mexicans.

“The Arizona law makes the Mexican-American community vulnerable,” Levario said, “and the legal recourse is quite blurry.”

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10 Responses to “History Repeated: Arizona Immigration Law No Different from the Past”

  1. lacebra Says:

    45% of all legal Hispanic immigrants are on one or more welfare programs. Hispanics have the highest welfare rate, the highest birth rate and the highest high school drop out rate of any group in the U.S. Their claims that all they want to do,”is work,” would be alot more credible if they would stop accepting welfare. SB 1070 does not mention race…..PERIOD. The fact that the Hispanics are throwing such a fit only shows they know they are an undesirable element. Many know they are here illegaly, and they know they are WRONG! The legal Hispanic immigrants are costing the U.S. a fortune, much less the illegals! GO HOME!

  2. Mr Harris Says:

    I am wondering if you read the Arizona law or not. And if you would check into the history of the other Immigration actions you spoke of you will find that were designed to make room for the soldiers that were coming home from war. So they could have jobs to come to. If you had read the law you would find that the only time a person is asked there status is AFTER they have been stopped for another infraction,( Such as speeding, DUI, accidents and so on.) Just the same as when you get pulled over and they ask you for your id. It is always good to research your story before you print it.
    signed An Arizona Resident. US Citizen for almost 400yrs…

  3. Margie Ceja Says:

    Excellent read. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Jerry Perez Says:

    Thank you for your efforts Dr. Levario !

    Best wishes!

    Jerry Perez
    President-Elect TTU Latino/Hispanic Faculty Staff Association

  5. Patrick Says:

    Another biased individual commenting on a law who has either not read the law or chosen to ignore the facts. I can’t believe people have to be reminded that the wellbeing of U.S. citizens need to be considered above others. Some, although very few, think the Arizona law is so bad, when it merely resembles federal laws and adopts them on the state level. Has anyone seen Mexico’s laws designed to enforce the same issues? Being in Mexico illegally is a felony. Fortunately, most people agree that Arizona’s law is sensible. Out of all things, even a poll conducted by MSNBC showed a 95% approval rating of the Arizona immigration law. Mr. Levario is entitled to his opinion, even though it doesn’t appear to be in the interest of the U.S. economy or security. It could be worse; at least we don’t have the mexican racist professor employed over at UT Arlington here at Tech.

  6. Dr. Levario Says:

    Yes, Mr. Harris I read the law and you are missing a critical part of the law that allows for police to enforce the statute based on ANY probable cause which includes racially profiling “illegal immigrants.” Thus, if someone is suspected of being here illegally based on physical appearance, which Gov. Brewer could not describe or articulate without profiling American citizens of Mexican descent, they can be subject to police and legal action. It goes beyond just a simple traffic violation, Mr. Harris. In addition, the lines between local and federal law enforcement are blurred when local police are allowed to act as federal agents. This law demonstrates an obvious over-extension of judicial and policing powers thus its mere enforcement begs to question its constitutionality. A complete assessment and repercussions of the law must be addressed and not the selective reading you have chosen to highlight.

  7. Richard Ronaldson Says:

    Mr. Harris,
    Although it will be difficult to argue the experience of a 400 year Arizona resident (are you part vampire?), I pose to you the same question you posed Dr. Levario…did you read the legislation passed? Local law enforcement can stop anyone “with cause”. The problem is the phrase “with cause” which is not clearly defined, and has afforded local authorities a blank template to apprehend anyone they want, whenever they want. Are you going to tell me that a high school educated policeman with a vendetta against immigrants is not going to fabricate some “cause” to stop a “Mexican-looking” person to see what he can find? Policemen having been taking liberties with their powers for years, maybe even for the 400 years you’ve been an AZ resident. If an illegal immigrant was breaking the law and apprehended accordingly, wouldn’t he/she be sent to immigration for proper processing already? Why do you need a law to single out a specific group of people, based on “looks”, when a law already exists to apprehend any law breaking person? So, again, have you read the legislation passed in your state?

  8. David Austin Says:

    Mr. Harries,
    It is difficult to tell people that truth when they don’t what to hear the truth even when they only see one way. I feel that it is time for the states to take action and fix the mistakes that they have done to its own people. The people that are voteing against the law that AZ are illegal mexicans or from other countries and they say that they are US citizenships when they know that they are illegal. The NAFTA is the cause of illegal, drugs, jobs losses, crime rates going up. If we step up and vote for what we the true americans want not what the politicans want because we voted them in. If we want our jobs to stay here in the US instead of giving them to illegal mexicans or over seas then lest do it not just cry about it and do nothing. We have the right and power to do something about it. I am a Tech Graduate from 2000 nad I had more than 8 jobs in maybe 5 years because the companys rather give it to the mexicans or the poilicans can not keep our jobs in american but rather keep the rich gettting richer. This is why I am back in School at UTA and not TTU because the teachers are only looking at the money not the students

  9. Patrick F. Says:

    You guys are splittin’ hairs. Illegal immigration is a problem that absolutely contributes to street crime, illegal drug distribution and has an overall negative impact on social and economic welfare in the U.S. The Arizona legislature is merely trying to protect the law abiding citizens of its state – from all cultural backgrounds AS LONG AS THEY ARE COMPLIANT WITH THE LAW. Nothing more is required and not one right is withheld from someone who is a citizen of the United States because of their race. In fact, American public policy has promoted the improvement of racial minorities at the expense of the majority in recent years (i.e. affirmative action, quotas, etc.). Sorry, you can’t recieve education, healthcare, or any other service paid for by tax revenue from legal citizens without paying your fair share. Go to any other country and check out their immigration laws; the U.S. bends over backwards to accomodate as many people that would like to live here as possible. Unfortunately, it seems that many immigrants are met with open arms and the prospect of opportunity but often refuse to assume the responsibilities that all recipients of American wealth distribution, entitlements, etc. are accountable for. There are two terrible effects from illegals being allowed to live here illegally: a) granting them the limited resources allocated to indigent citizens – there is no record of income when everything is under the table – deprives legal citizens of those rights and reduces the standard of living among American citizens, or b) letting them live here in poverty, poverty that breeds illigitimate children that contribute to the feminization of single-parent households and crime that results in prison sentences or death, negatively impacts the wellbeing of the illegals. The first effect is a diservice to the American public, which the government is designed to protect and the second highlights the lack of help provided to immigrants from the American government when this activity is ignored and not addressed. The only way to help everyone is to make all laws applicable to all people in the nation. Nobody likes paying taxes or always obeying every applicable law but life’s full of things that are no fun. Get used to it or get out.

  10. Margie Ceja Says:

    Dr. Levario:

    We appreciate you at Texas Tech. In the classroom I learned from you. It is a delight to see a person with your “outstanding” credentials get out of the classroom and actually apply what you know. Mil Gracias for being a strong and educated voice. Your the “real deal”. High expectations is exactly what the “great universities” produced. We are fortunate to have you here at Texas Tech University.

    Margie Ceja, Lubbock Texas

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Featured Expert
Miguel Levario is an assistant professor in the Department of History in the College of Arts and Sciences

Miguel Levario is an assistant professor in the Department of History in the College of Arts and Sciences. He is an expert in Mexican American and Latino history.

View his profile in our online Experts Guide.

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