After a prolonged spell of missteps and atrocious press coverage, Donald Trump has regained his commanding lead in the Republican presidential primary. A week ago he swept five states in the Northeast by giant margins, and he leads every recent poll of Indiana, whose primary takes place Tuesday. The state is probably the last place for the anti-Trump faction to prevent him from winning the primary outright, and it doesn't even look close.
It's worth remembering what a grim development this is. Not only will his combination of open bigotry and utter lack of political or military experience be historically unique in a major party candidate, he's also openly campaigning on moral atrocities — in particular, a plan of what amounts to ethnic cleansing.
Now, most people think of mass murder when they hear ethnic cleansing, but that's not necessarily the case. Creating an ethnically homogeneous state can also be accomplished through deportation.
This brings me to Trump's plan to put together a "deportation force" to remove the 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States, an idea he justifies by reference to a somewhat similar program called "Operation Wetback" carried out in the mid-50s.
Perhaps the best way to begin to grasp what a horror this would be is to consider the sheer logistics of such an operation. First, one has to find the unauthorized population — no small task, as such people are understandably not keen on being rounded up and deported, and doubly so given the wide adoption of cell phones and internet service.
Though there isn't a complete database for unauthorized immigrants, demographic estimates find that over 70 percent are from Mexico and Central America. That means a titanic amount of law enforcement rooting around in mostly poor Latino communities — probably starting with checkpoints demanding immigration papers from every brown person stopped along highways in states with high Latino populations, dragnet electronic surveillance, and huge pressure on employers. Absent a brutal secret police, it would be nigh-impossible.
But suppose the Trump Troopers manage to root out every unauthorized immigrant, with a mere few thousand U.S. citizens caught up by mistake. Then they would need to transport them back to their places of origin. Even if we assume that he wouldn't bother to figure out where people came from, even just dumping them in Mexico (1.5 million Asians and all) would be extraordinarily complicated and expensive. Forcibly packing up 1.3 times the population of New York City, holding them while they're processed through some sort of legal bureaucracy, and moving them thousands of miles would take thousands of trains, trucks, planes, or ships.
Any method would cost billions in fuel, food, and logistics, and grotesque abuse would be an iron certainty. Here's how that turned out back in the '50s:
The boatlift operations back to Mexico ended in September 1956 after seven workers drowned in an apparent attempt to escape, sparking a riot on the vessel known as the Mercurio. There were conflicting reports of what led to the drownings and the riot, according to New York Times accounts of the incident. Congressional investigators later said the boat resembled "an ancient penal ship" and that some 500 Mexican nationals were crammed aboard a boat that was equipped with two lifeboats that could only hold 48 people, according to an August 1956 Times article. [CNN]
Let's not mince words about why Trump and his followers support this idea: anti-Latino bigotry. In U.S. discourse, the general assumption is that all unauthorized immigrants are Mexican (in reality only 56 percent are), and Trump has been railing against Mexicans for the entire campaign — asserting that the Mexican government is deliberately sending "criminals, drug dealers, rapists" over the U.S. border. It's not a coincidence this is just when he rocketed to first place in the GOP primary. Deporting millions of Latinos, immigrant or no — and thus restoring the white demographic majority to some degree — is basically the point.
Trump's Operation Wetback II would be an ethnic cleansing on par with the post-World War II "population transfers" in Eastern Europe, when about 30 million people, half of them Germans, were hastily and often brutally shuffled across borders so as to create ethnically homogenous nation-states. Those too were heinous crimes, but one can sort of understand why Germans might be a bit unpopular in the region. Proposing such an operation in a peaceful and basically prosperous nation, where the target population is quite well-integrated (indeed practically model citizens) is grotesque.