RSS FeedFacebookSearch
Gary Younge
Mexicans expelled in 30s ask for justice

The Mexican American Legal Defence and Education Fund and the law firm Kiesel, Boucher and Larson are seeking class-action status for the suit, brought on behalf of an estimated 400,000 people of Mexican descent.

It claims that local officials working with the federal immigration authorities carried out a "coordinated, aggressive campaign to remove people of Mexican ancestry from California in large numbers", in violation of their constitutional rights.

"This lawsuit goes to the essence of who we are as a state and the dignity of a people," Raymond Boucher told the Los Angeles Times.

"We have to recognise that in the 1930s we used the Mexican population as a scapegoat. Until we take an honest look in the mirror, none of us is truly safe."

One of the plaintiffs, Emilia Castaneda, said she was nine when she was forced to leave her home in 1935. She was loaded on to a train and sent to Mexico after her father was put out of work by the campaign against foreign labour. "We cried and cried," she said. "I had never been to Mexico. We were leaving everything behind."

They returned to her father's home state, Durango, where they were referred to as repatriadas.

Her Spanish was weak and her family was initially passed between relatives until they found somewhere to stay.

Only when her godmother in Los Angeles obtained a copy of her birth certificate and sent it to her could she return, after presenting it to the US immigration authorities.

"As an American, I didn't deserve to be deported," she said. "All Americans should know this is part of our history so we don't have to experience this again.

"Somebody could say: "We were wrong for the injustices committed to you, and apologise for what was done. Maybe other people who are still in Mexico would hear about this and would come back."

An estimated 60% of those forcibly removed were US citizens.

Mexican immigration became a national issue in the 1920s when the pool of cheap labour Mexicans provided in the west became a source of contention with the rural south, which felt it was being undercut.

By 1930, with unemployment and demands for state welfare growing, President Herbert Hoover began a "repatriation" programme.

The plaintiffs are hoping for the kind of compensation package given by the Reagan administration to Japanese Americans interned during the second world war, settled by the threat of a class-action case.

Joseph Dunn, a Californian state senator who has been building up a case for the Mexicans for the past year, presided over a hearing yesterday to examine the forced removal.

"The deportation programme of the 1930s is not a proud chapter in American history," he said.

"Hopefully, by acknowledging this, we can minimise the likelihood of unjustly treating future immigrants to this great nation."

Mr Dunn has brought together a number of scholars who have studied the era, who testified in favour of the plaintiffs. Francisco Balderrama, professor of history and Chicano studies at Cal State University Los Angeles, said the forced removals "became a model for the rest of the United States".

Kevin Johnson, an associate dean at the University of California Davis School of Law said: "It's a bedrock principle of US immigration law that US citizens cannot be removed [from the US]. This is why this episode is so troubling to me."

A lawyer for the city, Rocky Delgadillo, said he had not yet seen the case, which was lodged on Tuesday, and so could not comment.

© Gary Younge. All Rights reserved, site built with tlc
Another Day in the Death of America
book review
Younge’s masterwork. To be read through tears. Brilliantly reported, quietly indignant and utterly gripping. Naomi Klein
 follow on twitter
RT @sulaimanaddonia: I have an extreme fear of technology, but this festival prompted me to get over my technophobia. So I built my 1st eve…
RT @Ciaran_Laval: @therealmi5 @Saffiya_Khan1 @davidschneider @EHRC This is an issue that hasn't been addressed for decades, it came to a he…
RT @jielbyr: "We are trying to raise self-confident children for long lives, not hashtags for slaughter." Gary Younge
I dream of a world without borders; but in the meantime I’m more than happy with my friends without boundaries. https://t.co/Tg9vuEXxie
RT @MsJeanRhys: I had two longings & one was fighting the other. I wanted to be loved & I wanted to be always alone.
Wow. Twitter has many faults. But when someone can use to let you know they’ve found one of your late mother’s scho… https://t.co/tYlcKhLdbh
RT @courtneyyusuf: Tune in to @garyyounge ‘s beautiful last column after 26 years at the @guardian , and get behind the curious case of Car…
RT @DawnButlerBrent: So happy to be on the ballot for Deputy Leader 😊. Thank you to all colleagues who nominated me and all the members sup…
RT @NesrineMalik: A kangaroo court is set up. The outcome of the litigation is certain. The whole point is the spectacle, rather than the i…
RT @DawnButlerBrent: I'm proud that the field of candidates standing for @UKLabour leadership and deputy leadership are diverse. I hope the…
© Gary Younge. All Rights reserved, site built with tlc