Displaced persons and Operation Wetback
At the end of World War 2 Europe was inundated with displaced persons, many with little or no identification or money. While the quota system remained in use for immigration to the United States it was quickly apparent that emergency action was necessary as Europe did not have the infrastructure nor the means to house and care for them. The Displaced Persons Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Truman as a temporary emergency measure. Although Truman supported the measure and signed it in 1948, he did so while objecting to some of the provisions of the act, one of which was that the immigration quota for a given country was transferred to the displaced persons list.
If a nation did not possess a sufficient number in its annual quota to support the number of people placed on the displaced persons list, the numbers were “borrowed” from quotas in succeeding years. The numbers in particular excluded the numbers of persons coming from Eastern Europe and the Balkan nations, as well as Italy. A second Displaced Persons Act was created and signed in 1950 which removed the provision assigning the quota numbers to the displaced persons list. Under the Displaced Persons Act, 200,000 refugees who qualified under its terms entered the United States annually.
In 1952 the Immigration Act of 1924 was re-affirmed under the McCarran-Walter Immigration Act, which also limited total immigration to the United States to one sixth of 1% of the total population of the United States, excluding the territories of Hawaii and Alaska, as recorded in the census of 1920. This allowed total immigration of 175,455, and excluded from the total certain family members of those already residing in the United States, as well as refugees, and the wives and children of American citizens, allowing entry of spouses married by troops of occupation in Europe and elsewhere around the globe.
In 1954, in response to growing illegal entry into the United States from Mexico and other Latin American countries across the Mexican border, President Eisenhower authorized a program to return illegal immigrants. During the Second World War Mexico and the United States jointly operated a program known as Bracero, in which migrant Mexican workers came to the United States to assist with harvests. The legal workers faced competition from illegal workers who crossed the border and worked for the farmers for lower wages than the Braceros, who were recruited by the Mexican government in an attempt to bolster the Mexican economy when they returned with American money in their pockets.
Operation Wetback was a joint operation of the US Border Patrol and the Mexican government. Beginning in May 1945, US Border Patrol teams located and arrested illegal immigrants and transferred them to the control of the Mexican government, who either removed them far from the Mexican-US border or returned them to their nation of origin. Over 1 million were deported in the first year of Operation Wetback. The most significant result of Operation Wetback was the increased surveillance of the Mexican-American border by agencies of both sides, which continues to the present day, though illegal crossings have never been fully stopped.