J.C. Derrick: Immigration history

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, April 2nd. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Managing editor J.C. Derrick is here now with a page from immigration history.

J.C. DERRICK, MANAGING EDITOR: Immigration is back in the news. It never really left, but recent events brought it back to the front pages.

First, last week the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection said the border is at a “breaking point.”

Then Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced what she called a historic agreement for border cooperation in Central America. The plan came after multilateral meetings with Nielsen’s counterparts from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.  

And almost immediately, President Trump took steps to cut off foreign aid to those same countries. He also threatened to close the southern border.

Meanwhile, Democrats continue to insist there is no crisis.

No silver bullet solution will solve our complex immigration problems. To name just two: a perfectly secure border would not prevent migrants from applying for asylum. And the majority of recent unlawful immigrants started out as lawful—then overstayed their visas.

But despite the complexity, history offers some often overlooked insights.

For example, the U.S. faced a similar surge after World War II. Beginning in 1946, migrants flooded across the U.S. border—in what some government reports described as “virtually an invasion.”

Removals topped 1 million in 1954.

In response, the Eisenhower administration employed a two-pronged strategy to address the problem. The part most people remember is deporting almost 2 million Mexicans.  

But that wasn’t the first or most important thing the U.S. government did. Before ramping up interior enforcement, the Eisenhower administration expanded the Bracero guest worker visa program. It also made the program more flexible and easier to use.

There were also on-the-spot legalizations and direct coordination with farmers to ensure they got the labor they needed.

The result: It became more attractive to come legally than illegally. Hundreds of thousands of migrants funneled into the legal system.

The other result: illegal immigration fell by some 90 percent.

And all this while the number of border patrol agents ranged from about a thousand to 1,600—a far cry from today’s 20,000.

We live in a much more complicated world today—where drug cartels and human trafficking are powerful realities. But the Eisenhower administration’s actions show that sound policy can produce results.

Progress is possible if politicians in both parties would stop using immigration as a wedge issue. And if voters would stop rewarding them for doing it.

We cannot forget that countless people—made in the image of God—are caught in the crossfire.

Oh, and you’re probably wondering what happened to the Bracero visa program. The Kennedy and Johnson administrations tightened restrictions on it, leading to dwindling numbers in the early 1960s.

Then unions—concerned about cheap labor—successfully lobbied to get the program killed altogether.

Illegal immigration immediately spiked upward and has remained higher ever since.

For WORLD Radio, I’m J.C. Derrick.

(AP Photo/Eric Gay) In this Thursday, March 14, 2019, photo, William Josue Gonzales Garcia, 2, who was traveling with his parents, waits with other families who crossed the nearby U.S.-Mexico border near McAllen, Texas. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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