Immigration debate: what ‘round ’em up’ actually looks like

Throughout Utah’s immigration debate, some voices have called for a strict enforcement-only policy regarding illegal immigrants. What those voices haven’t explained is what the policy would actually look like if implemented. How exactly do you “round ’em up” and “ship ’em out”? How do you ensure that American citizens aren’t mistakenly forced to leave their home country in this process?

Photo credit: Dan MacMedan, USA TODAY

Well, even if those advocating for enforcement-only measures are a little reticent about actually describing what their policy would lead to, we have a very good idea of what that looks like because it actually happened. During the Great Depression, the U.S. government employed several tactics to force hundreds of thousands of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans down to Mexico, even though most of them were either here working legally or U.S. citizens. Often called “the repatriation,” the effort included several ugly and illegal tactics inconsistent with American law and values.

A 2006 USA Today article tells the story. A few excerpts:

“They came in with guns and told us to get out,” recalls Piña, 81, a retired railroad worker in Bakersfield, Calif., of the 1931 raid. “They didn’t let us take anything,” not even a trunk that held birth certificates proving that he and his five siblings were U.S.-born citizens.

The family was thrown into a jail for 10 days before being sent by train to Mexico. Piña says he spent 16 years of “pure hell” there before acquiring papers of his Utah birth and returning to the USA.

In the early 1900s, Mexicans poured into the USA, welcomed by U.S. factory and farm owners who needed their labor. Until entry rules tightened in 1924, they simply paid a nickel to cross the border and get visas for legal residency.

“The vast majority were here legally, because it was so easy to enter legally,” says Kevin Johnson, a law professor at the University of California, Davis.

(The U.S. had a simple system that met its labor needs. Why have we made this so complicated today?)

“The slogan has gone out over the city (Los Angeles) and is being adhered to — ‘Employ no Mexican while a white man is unemployed,’ ” wrote George Clements, manager of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce’s agriculture department, in a memo to his boss Arthur Arnoll. He said the Mexicans’ legal status was not a factor: “It is a question of pigment, not a question of citizenship or right.”

The entire article is well worth the read.

To be sure, because “the repatriation” occurred during the Great Depression of the 1930s does not mean it would occur today during our generation’s economic downturn. We cannot predict what would happen if enforcement-only were the policy of Utah or the United States government. This episode is useful, however, as it illustrates how our government actually enforced repatriation: the methodologies it employed when it did decide to deport a large ethnic population.

So, if forced deportation is not a realistic or desirable option, then what do we do? The federal government will not enforce its immigration policies consistently. We have tens of thousands of illegal immigrants in Utah. And because of the federal government’s inaction on immigration over the last several decades, many illegal immigrants have been in Utah for years, have become integrated into our economy, schools and society, and, by and large, are making positive contributions to our society.

Yes, there are problems, as with any large group of people. For instance, we need to address identity theft and gangs. But how does strict, enforcement-only policy solve a problem like identity theft? It doesn’t. Because the federal government will not deport the vast majority of illegal immigrants presented to them by state and local agencies, enforcement-only quickly turns into a “catch and release” program: Detainees are legally held for up to 48 hours in state facilities and then released when the federal government refuses to take them into custody.

Most of those detained are not criminals causing harm to our communities, and the main results of “catch and release” are a huge waste of taxpayer dollars and increased mistrust within the undocumented immigrant community, which actually hurts police work.

What is needed, then, is comprehensive reform that actually solves the many complex issues involved in this difficult situation created by federal inaction. In Utah, is HB 116 that panacea? No. Is it a start? Yes. Does it need to be improved? Yes. Sutherland supports HB 116 as passed, wholeheartedly. It’s not the gold standard for Utah as SB 60 was, but HB 116 lays the foundation for great policy on state-based immigration reform that allows us, as a sovereign state, to ensure our public safety, protect our freedom, and promote our economic prosperity. And with a start date of 2013, we have two years to work with the federal government toward finding sensible answers to these challenging issues, while preventing a repeat of the tragedies of the 1930s.

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  • Webstuff

    Exaggerating the views of your intellectual opponents in order to appear more moderate is intellectual dishonesty. This kind of polarizing rubbish does nothing to advance the discussion. You should be ashamed.

    • Dave

      How are the views of our “intellectual opponents” exaggerated in this piece? It’s true that “some voices have called for a strict enforcement-only policy regarding illegal immigrants.” It’s also true that “those voices haven’t explained what the policy would actually look like if implemented.” This article simply shows what an enforcement-only policy looked like when it WAS implemented. Certainly, this is instructive. Does it mean that’s what would happen today? No, we don’t know what would happen. We don’t even know what an enforcement-only plan looks like in detail because those details have not been offered. But we do know what did happen thanks to this eye-popping piece of American history. So again, how is anything exaggerated here?

      • Webstuff

        Dave, thank you for that admission. You have gone from “we have a very good idea” what would happen [if federal immigration law were to be enforced], to “No, we don’t know what would happen.” This was an inflammatory hit-piece, nothing more.

        Who says that opponents of the (unconstitutional) HB 116 bill are for “enforcement only” (whatever that is)? That’s a pretty flimsy assumption to build on which to build a thesis.

        • Dave

          From the blog post: “To be sure, because “the repatriation” occurred during the Great
          Depression of the 1930s does not mean it would occur today during our
          generation’s economic downturn. We cannot predict what would happen if
          enforcement-only were the policy of Utah or the United States
          government. This episode is useful, however, as it illustrates
          our government actually enforced repatriation: the methodologies it employed when it
          decide to deport a large ethnic population.”

          The majority of opponents to HB 116 favor the enforcement-only legislation (HB 70, now HB 497). Again, from the post: “But how does strict, enforcement-only policy solve a problem like
          identity theft? It doesn’t. Because the federal government will not
          deport the vast majority of illegal immigrants presented to them by
          state and local agencies, enforcement-only quickly turns into a “catch
          and release” program: Detainees are legally held for up to 48 hours in
          state facilities and then released when the federal government refuses
          to take them into custody.”

  • F Keith Harrison

    I live in southern Utah and am a State Delegate. As I’ve talked to many people about this issue, it seems that there is no room to negotiate as far as the people who are against HB116. Unless, and until, the federal government decides to become pro active in dealing with the illegal immigration issue, we have to be willing to entertain new and different ideas. They certainly won’t please everyone, but at least we can start heading in the right direction. Law enforcement needs some tools that will help. Right now they are basically impotent. Perhaps we can phase in some of the things in HB116 after a more concerted effort is made to enforce the existing laws.

  • terra nova

    Thank heaven for articles like this. Excellent work Southerland. Pity the xenophobes whose simplistic, angry and shrill voices prattle for ever harsher penalties. Pity them, but don’t give into them.

  • FortifyingOurFamilies

    Keith, thank you for your thoughtful insights. I also think that there are some parts of HB 116 that could be implemented at some point. Certainly there are supporters of HB 116 whose hearts are in the right place.

    I do not understand why many supporters (including the SI) resort to name calling and exaggerations to try and advance their agenda. There are caring, intelligent people on both sides of the issue. Because the bill violates the US Constitution, Utah Constitution, and US and State law, it should be immediately repealed. We can do better.

  • Lou Sansevero

    First of all they aren’t immigrants . . . they ARE criminals, they are in the U.S. in violation of U.S. immigration law. Second, you don’t have to have either enforcement only OR amnesty you can take the course that I understand Missouri has taken :

    Recently I read an interesting
    article with the intriguing title of “There are no illegal aliens in
    Missouri”. While the debate rages
    between the enforcement only and amnesty only factions of the illegal alien
    issue and while Utah became the nation’s first “sanctuary state” the people of the “show me” state
    have “shown us” the way with a common sense, economic, and effective
    approach . . . they simply pulled in the “welcome mat” and
    “slammed the door” in the faces of illegal aliens (Missouri SB858). How you may ask, well while we in Utah felt it
    was important to have an official handgun,
    Missouri declared, through a constitutional amendment, that English was its official language and passed
    laws requiring all government activity to be conducted only in English and that
    no individual had a right to demand government services in any other
    language. In other words all state applications,
    licensing exams, documents, and pamphlets are produced in English only . . . if
    you can’t read and understand English that’s your problem.

    Under federal law, unlawfully
    present aliens are not eligible for state or local public benefits so while
    Utah pondered how best to provide these benefits to illegal aliens, Missouri
    passed laws stating that applicants for
    benefits shall provide proof of citizenship, residency, or lawful presence in
    order to receive benefits.

    While Utah debated punishment
    for public employees who exposed illegal aliens applying for public benefits,
    Missouri passed a law that bared government entities, political subdivisions,
    and government officials from interfering with any communication with the
    federal government regarding the citizenship or immigration status of any
    individual and which says that the state shall not fund government entities,
    agencies, or political subdivisions that have policies that would interfere
    with such communications.

    While Utah proudly became the
    nation’s first state to offer a special class of driver’s licenses for illegal aliens,
    Missouri’s Department of Revenue was ordered not to issue any driver’s licenses
    to illegal aliens nor to persons who cannot prove lawful presence and that a
    driver’s license issued to an illegal alien in another state shall not be
    honored by the state of Missouri and the Department of Revenue for any purpose.

    the question of enforcing Federal immigration law was politicized in Utah, the
    Missouri Highway Patrol entered into a memorandum of understanding with the
    federal government to have members trained to enforce federal immigration laws
    and are required, along with other law enforcement officials in the state, to verify the immigration status of any
    person arrested, and inform federal authorities if the person is found to be in
    Missouri illegally.

    the chief of police of Salt Lake City and the Utah Attorney General baulked at
    enforcing immigration laws, virtually giving illegal aliens sanctuary, Missouri
    municipalities were barred from adopting
    policies designed to give aliens sanctuary when they are present in violation
    of federal immigration laws. Those municipalities that adopt sanctuary policies
    are ineligible for any grants provided by the state.

    the Utah legislature debated how much to charge illegal aliens attending Utah
    state funded colleges and universities, Missouri barred illegal aliens from
    enrolling in all public universities in the state and those institutions were
    required to annually certify that they have not knowingly enrolled any aliens
    unlawfully present in United States in the preceding year.

    Utah passed a cynical, flawed, and virtually toothless “Guest Worker”
    law, Missouri employers were barred from employing illegal aliens period.
    Violators are subject to the suspension of their business permits and licenses
    or exemptions. In order to correct the violation and have permits and licenses
    reinstated, the employers need to terminate the employment of the alien or
    request a second verification of the alien’s status from the federal
    government, sign a sworn affidavit stating that the violation has ended, and
    submit documentation confirming the entity is enrolled in a federal work
    authorization program. Violators who
    were under contract with the state were to have their contracts voided and are barred
    from contracting with the state for three years. Subsequent violations result
    in a void contract and a permanent bar from contracting with the state.

    did all these things and, the last time I checked, still exists . . . there is
    still produce in its grocery stores, lawns are still being mowed, gardens are still
    tended, fast food is still being served, and hotel rooms are still being
    cleaned and their beds still being made up.
    In short all “the jobs Americans won’t do” are being done in
    Missouri. In addition, tourists still
    visit Missouri!

    or not there really are “NO” illegal aliens in Missouri I can’t say
    but it seems to me that the approach
    Missouri is taking, making Missouri an environment which is decidedly illegal alien unfriendly is an
    economic, common sense approach to the illegal alien problem that works. I believe Utah should adopt similar policies
    and, like Missouri, “pull in the welcome mat” and “slam the door” in the faces of
    potential illegal aliens contemplating entering Utah and give those already
    here “strong inducements” to leave Utah voluntarily for more illegal
    alien friendly states.

    I would call on Governor
    Herbert to abandon his support of the cynical and flawed “Guest Worker”
    law, support its repeal and support a proactive, logical approach such as Missouri’s for resolving the
    horrific problem created by illegal aliens in Utah.

  • Steve G.

    I am grateful for the Sutherland Institute and all they contribute to this discussion. I do get a bit disheartened by those who refuse to see this as an issue involving real human beings. I know undocumented individuals from working in a hospital on the west side and involvement in Spanish speaking branches of my faith. The undocumented people I meet are some of the hardest working, family oriented people I know. Not being able to see these people as real human beings and being stuck on enforcement only as the answer to this issue is what makes it likely that history would be repeated. If we are going to make the blanket statement that these people are “criminals” then to be honest with ourselves we would have to say that we are all “criminals.” But denial is a very human trait as well as self righteousness. Those are traits I need to continually watch for in myself. To me these people are my “neighbor” and my faith teaches me that the “meaning of “neighbor” includes all of God’s children, in all places, at all times.”

  • Blaine

    As Lou Sansevero so clearly and succinctly outlined earlier, the solution to the Illegal Invader debate Utah already has a clear and viable precedent. Missouri leads the way in establishing a humane and personal agency based solution to this problem. Supporters of the Utah Compact, which could more accurately be labeled the Utah Concession, pretend to hold a superior moral position to those of us who still believe that the US (and Utah) as intended to be a state of law rather than a conglomeration of whims and personal indulgences. The self-righteous Amnesty supporters, their equally self-serving “we need the cheap labor” mongers and their brethren companions who want to fill their pews with worshipers choose to ignore the “best” solution because it would negatively impact their exclusive self interest.

    By taking the pseudo-higher moral position that “families must be preserved” the feel-gooders plant a blind eye to the fact that each Illegal Invader has already broken up a family when they chose to abandon that sacred unit simply to grab a buck or two. Every time we (Utah specifically) encourage one more Illegal Invader to come here because of our foolishly extending “special” benefits to them, and effectively paying them to flock to our midst, we break up one more family in their counrty of origin. If indeed someone honestly holds some moral compunction against “breaking up the family” they should immediately and unequivocally stand with the Missourians and we “round ‘em up” cowboys. To pretend that policies which encourage a breaking up of some foreign family is somehow superior to policies which would “break up an already broken up family” is disingeneous smacks of

    As for those who advance the “cheap labor” argument . . . if a nation could be built upon that basis, Mexico would be a much more prosperous nation than it is today. Arguing in this vein is simply self-serving and an expression of a willingness to live off the exploitation of others. Again, a xenophobic basis for grabbing a quick buck from the exploitable.

    If pews are to be filled, the largest Church in Utah preaches obedience to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law. Such should be the teaching of all churches. And, if they so teach, they should encourage their members to remain in their homeland and build up the people with whom they live. If laws are to be obeyed, it seems difficult for a religious institution to discriminate as to which specific laws that obedience should be applied so as to remain true to the faith. The pews that should be filled may well be those in the Illegal Invader’s homeland where they could probably lend strength to the building up of the kingdom there.

    The essence of all immorality is the willingness to make an exception for oneself or one’s friends. Choices have consequences.

    In 1986 the US, and Utah, chose to grant Amnesty to a previous hoard of Invaders. I even helped some of my friends avail themselves of that misplaced largess. The consequences of that mistake are being seen today and will only grow in magnitude if a proper and firm stand against Illegal Invasion is not taken by our political, religious and business leaders.

    • Jared

      Blaine, are you on fb? I’d like to get in touch with you. There are others who have analyzed HB 116 in great detail who are working to get it repealed. Another way to get in touch is to sign the petition on RepealHB116 d o t c o m. I know the organizer of that site. -Jared (“7 Principles”)

  • Strider

    I wish to only comment on one item mentioned in the article “…many illegal immigrants have been in Utah for years, have become
    integrated into our economy, schools and society, and, by and large, are
    making positive contributions to our society.” In my experience of living in both Utah and now in Salt Lake County, I am aware of several foreign born nationals (immigrant status unknown, but suspected to be illegal) who have lived in this state/country for over ten (10) years and are unable to speak even a little English. As such they ‘ghetto-ize’ themselves into the Spanish speaking community, work for wages paid under the table, prey on or are prey for others in various schemes and actions involving money.

    The illegal community is not integrated into our society, and probably never will be integrated. As I live on the West side of Salt Lake City I feel the Whine and Brie crowd who live on the East side spout diversity and multiculturalism but don’t have to live in it as I do. The illegal communityare economic refugees from corrupt and inept governments. They have little or no desire to become “American” as did the previous generations of immigrants, many of our ancestors. It appears to me that they do not value education, nor integration as a body but seem to gravitate to the spokesmen who publicly plead for tolerance, services and public support for their current status.

    I do see somethings positive in the present state of affairs: It is a great situation for politicos. People on all sides of the issue have a body of people who can be portrayed as victims. They and their sympathizers can be pandered to, shaken down for money for various causes and candidates, but the illegal community cannot vote so retribution is nil, and the cycle repeats itself in the next election. As money is the mother’s milk of politics, this situation keeps on giving and giving and all sides profit with very little chance of accountability. Ain’t great? Oh I think I like what Missouri has done as reported in the comments.

  • Jared

    I believe that there are people of good faith on both sides of the illegal immigration issue. Please “like” this comment if you think these principles might help guide further discussion:

    7 Principles

    FAMILY: Does the legislation help
    individuals who have not committed identity theft or any other felony, stay with their family?

    SECURITY: Does the legislation increase the security of Utah families and

    THE LAW: Does
    the legislation honor and sustain the U.S. and Utah State Constitutions?

    Is the legislation fiscally responsible? If it would lead to continued or
    additional costs on taxpayers, who will pay these costs?

    Does the legislation encourage families to be self-sufficient? Does it reduce
    dependence on government?

    HONESTY: Does the legislation reward
    honest and ethical choices, and help others to make and keep commitments?

    EMPLOYMENT: Does the legislation safeguard
    jobs for legal citizens first?

    • Blaine


      The 7 points you present are valuable and should indeed guide the discussion regarding immigration vs: Illegal Invasion. These are to very distinct practices and should never be confused with each other.

      I’d like to take a stab at those 7 points, one by one, as they pertain to Illegal Invaders:

      1- FAMILY. The legislation which as passed does NOT help these non-identity stealing individuals as suggested. This legislation encourages ever more Illegal Invaders to leave much, or all, of their family in their homeland. However, through the “bond posting” feature, it does enable them to bring an unlimited number of “immediate family” to live with them. Should I be one of these Illegal Invaders I’d bring approximately 117 people by posting a $10,000 bond. Upon failing to honor that bond it would have cost us about 85 pieces of silver per person to betray common sense and simply buy an amnesty from the State. This cheap sellout somehow fails the smell test. If people are to “stay with their family”, maybe they should first look to those they choose to abandon prior to appealing to HB 116 for salve for that wound.
      2- SECURITY. Absolutely not. Each encouraged Illegal Invader brings added pressure to existing law enforcement systems which reduces the security of legal Utah families and businesses. Additionally, “security” wears many masks. Each Illegal Invader decreases the availability of jobs, housing, medical services, water and other resource in the State. Each deprivation of those resources decreases the “security” of Utah families and businesses.
      3- LAW. This legislation decidedly flies in the face of existing law, both National and State. It honors only those people who choose to violate existing law and Illegally Invade a nation without regard to their “own people” who legally stand in line to become immigrants. Such honoring of law-breakers while denigrating others is NOT honorable nor understandable.
      4- FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY. Allowing Illegal Invaders to avail themselves of medical services, special language concessions and myriad other extraordinary benefits is the antithesis of fiscal responsibility. Requiring Utahans and others (via the labyrinthic Federal payments system) to pay for exceptional services to these Illegal Immigrants is akin to theft under color of law.
      5- INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY. Since this legislation as passed does not require the Illegal Invader to vacate the State and start on a equal footing to any other individual who would become an immigrant there is ZERO component of individual responsibility in the “law”.
      6- HONESTY. Simply put . . . there is precious little honesty, or required honesty, in this legislation.
      7- EMPLOYMENT. Allowing the self proclaimed exploitables to take (cheap paying) jobs from Utahans serves only to enrich those who will (including their own countrymen / women) enslave and dishonor them. The unscrupulous exploiters welcome the opportunity which this legislation poses for them to plunder the employment possibilities for their fellow citizens.

      From my perspective, this poorly thought out legislation FAILS on all 7 points.

      The wise approach taken by Missouri and Arizona should be taken in Utah and all other US States.

      Lest anyone suspect my motives, I:
      – intermingle with people native of many lands
      – served as a missionary for my church in Mexico
      – count both immigrants (including my wife) and Illegal Invaders amongst my friends and fellow church members
      – have lived in many nations
      – have never seen any approach to Illegal Invasion by those host nations which was a foolish as is the current US (and Utah) approach
      – am as charitable as anybody I know and willing to give everyone a chance to improve themselves
      – would most probably be an Illegal Invader had I been born in Cd. Mante, Tamaulipas, Mexico rather than here in the US . . . However, that I would have been willing to break the law to improve my own personal situation does not make that action “right”. The genesis of all immorality is the willingness to make an exception for oneself or one’s friends.

      Common sense should never be overshadowed by self-serving “law”.