Patterico's Pontifications


L.A. Press Archives – Part 3 [The Illegal Immigration Debate – Reloaded]

Filed under: Immigration,Miscellaneous — Justin Levine @ 12:48 am

[posted by Justin Levine] 

What follows is a jaw-dropping bit of journalistic déjà vu taken from the Los Angeles Examiner, Section 1A,  July 24, 1951. (No, that is not a typo – July 24, Nineteen-Hundred and Fifty-One.)

* Please note that all of the language here is reprinted exactly from the original newspaper text, despite the fact that the use of certain terms would certainly be questionable in today’s culture (to say the least). Keep in mind that the term was generally not considered offensive at the time this article was first published.

[begin article]


Endless Tide Crashes Border – – Problem to Two Nations

Mexicans Lured by High Wages

By Jack Massard

Vincente Estrada-Leon would probably be surprised to learn the trouble he and thousands of Mexican wetbacks like him are causing the two governments.

The efforts of the Mexican and American officials to keep him in his native Mexico must seem to him, if he ever thinks of such things, a contradiction of all economic sense.

All Vincente ever wanted to do was work and earn his daily bread and perhaps put a few pesos aside for his family, and, certainly, the ranchers of the Imperial and Coachella Valleys welcome his labor.

The Mexican and American Governments now are negotiating a new international labor contract that will provide thousands of legal Mexican workers for “stoop labor” in California’s fertile valleys.

Problem Remains

But, like the old contract that expired last July 15, the new one will not alleviate the wetback problem – nothing will, an expert noted, as long as there exists the vast disparity of economic conditions between the two countries.

Vincente Estrada-Leon was arrested last week when the American Border Patrol spotted him and two companions scurrying across the dunes near Indio. It was his third arrest for illegal entry in a month. This is not unusual.

Pilots who have been flying planeloads of wetbacks deep into the interior of Mexico report that many of their passengers are back at Mexicali the day after the flight.

Fly Right Back

They simply slight from the plane at Guadalajara, purchase a ticket with the money they saved in the United States and fly back. In all probability they will be back at work in the same rancher’s field where the Border Patrol picked them up within 24 hours. It costs the American taxpayer $40 for each wetback’s plane ride.

In the light of such circumstances repeated thousands of times, the restraint of the Border Patrol is remarkable. After all its efforts must seem to its members like damming a river with a screen.

Last year the patrol made 290,000 arrests for illegal entry along the local district’s 235-mile stretch of border. Its total force consists of 160 men, with never more than 50 on duty at one time.

Not Criminals

The patrol realizes that it is not dealing with criminal types, but honest men seeking honest work wherever they can. Its attitude with ranchers, however, is not so kindly.

H.R. Landon, district director of the Naturalization and Immigration Service, had hoped that Congress would pass a penalty law against ranchers “knowingly” hiring wetbacks.

The ranchers argue that they can’t tell a wetback just by looking at him. But a penalty provision might have stopped the second hiring of the same wetback by the same rancher.

The consequences of the existing rancher-wetback subterfuge are appalling. The wetback, due to his illegal status, has, apparently, lost his worker’s and citizenship rights.

He works as much as 16 hours a day; truly he does it willingly. He sleeps out in the open, cooks his meal in a tin can and, in some cases, buys his provisions, for fear of going to town, from a rancher-operated commissary, where the prices are fixed high.

The legal Mexican worker must be paid a minimum of 60 cents an hour. A rancher can get all the wetback labor he wants for 20 to 30 cents an hour. And this situation brings another faction into the dispute.

Coolie Wages

The National Farm labor Union accepts the fact that the ranchers need some Mexican workers during the peak harvest season. But when whole ranches in the valleys are manned by illegal workers, laboring at coolie wages, the union can hardly hope to provide jobs  (Continued on page 4)

‘Coolie Wages’ For Wetbacks

(Continued from Page A)

for its members at a living wage.

This wetback labor problem was the cause of the recent labor strike in the Imperial Valley. The union went so far as to patrol the border, turning back hundreds of wetbacks a day and making many citizens’ arrests of wetbacks. The strike ended in a draw, nothing was changed.

Paradoxically, the Imperial and Coachella Valley merchants sided with the union. The merchants favor a resident labor force. For the shopkeepers don’t derive as much profit from the imported workers, who take their earnings home to Mexico, as they would from domestic laborers who support their families in the area.

Paper Work –

These are the ramifications of a longstanding problem. There are others like the ease with which espionage agents or dope smugglers could slip over the border disguised as wetbacks, and the costly amount of paper work involved in the processing of wetbacks.

In the last 18 months alone, the office of Consul General Salvador Duhart of Mexico has recovered $80,000 from American ranchers for the back pay of illegal Mexican workers.

The American immigration officials have aided in the recovery of this money, hoping that it will discourage some ranchers from hiring illegals, working them up to pay day, then turning them over to Border Patrol.

Wants More Men –

Landon, the district immigration head here, claims that he could turn down to a trickle the number of illegal entries if he could double his force of Border Patrollers.

Others claim that the American Government has done as much as it can. These believe that the Mexican government should keep the flocks of Mexican workers from congregating along its side of the border. The Mexican officials say they cannot, constitutionally, restrict the movements of its citizens within the republic.

This much is certain, Vincente Estrada-Leon and others like him will tell their friends in Mexico how they once earned as much as 15 American dollars for 50 hours work and then the Americans paid their plane fare home. And many, many more will come northward for work.   

[end article]

19 Responses to “L.A. Press Archives – Part 3 [The Illegal Immigration Debate – Reloaded]”

  1. 50 years later, supply and demand seem to still be working towards equilibrium. If the US, and California in particular, didn’t have the nanny state ensuring a vast net of social services, and IF we had a secure border, this would work itself out with a nice guest-worker program or something else sensible. Braceros?

    Hey, do you remember when American teenagers used to park cars, pump gas and make pizzas? I do.

    carlitos (2bcbb9)

  2. I remember working 16 hour days in the fields, cutting weeds with a short hoe and generally competing with the other kids in the area to be able to work for certain farmers. My first full time job was in 1974 when I was ten. I cleaned pig pens for $0.75 per hour, 7 days per week. During the school year I got to work at 5:00 A.M., worked until time to go to school, then returned to work from 3:30 to 8:00 P.M. During the summer, I did whatever work I could find which included hoeing weeds from fields, detasseling corn, working cattle, cleaning the old silage out of steel silos in preparation for the next harvest, etc. I have installed seamless guttering, pumped gas, cleaned toilets, bagged groceries, and was manager of a shipping and receiving dock at a factory. I am now an IT professional for the past 25 years.

    My family was poor. But we had pride. We did not accept charity unless we were totally unable to care for ourselves. This NEVER happened. We grew most of our own food in our garden, and ate simple, inexpensive foods. Our meat meal was usually on Sunday evening. Fried chicken if we were lucky, fried lunchmeat with cheese if we weren’t.

    But we were rich in other ways. Our parents loved us and we knew it. We learned self reliance and from that, we learned self-respect and respect for others. We followed the rules, even when we didn’t agree with them. Part of that self respect thing, I guess.

    Education was important. While I have never attended college, I have been a voracious reader since I learned to read. My father was adamant that we be able to intelligently discuss both sides of any issue before we claimed one side for our own.

    The most important lesson I learned in my growing up is that if a person is hungry enough, there is NO job that person won’t do. And in doing that job and doing it well, self respect is sure to follow.

    I all my years working, I have done many dirty, nasty, disgusting jobs. The only job I have ever refused to do was work in fast food, because people suck. 8-(

    Jay Curtis (8f6541)

  3. I all my years working

    Should read “In all my years working”. Too much of a hurry, I guess.

    Jay Curtis (8f6541)

  4. The most important lesson I learned in my growing up is that if a person is hungry enough, there is NO job that person won’t do. And in doing that job and doing it well, self respect is sure to follow.

    Well put. Great post. But don’t agree about fast food (my siblings and I all worked from age 15 through college in fast food, and the experience propelled us to do very well in college to avoid future jobs in said field), cause while people may suck, the contents of pig pens suck more. :)

    no one you know (1f5ddb)

  5. The union went so far as to patrol the border, turning back hundreds of wetbacks a day and making many citizens’ arrests of wetbacks.

    That’s what is missing today. Citizens’ arrests. I think it’s more important to make citizens’ arrest of the employers though.

    Next time I see the CEO of Tyson Food I’m slapping the cuffs on him.

    j curtis (8bcca6)

  6. If this is a nostalgia thread about the jobs we had as kids, I’ll contribute. Nothing to whine about, really.

    Most summers I was a day camp counselor at a Jewish Community Center. That was a great job.

    For eight months I was a busboy at Long John Silver’s. Yecch. When I left, though, I was the employee who had worked the longest at that location — including the manager and assistant managers.

    I also spent one hot summer sacking groceries. That was no fun because I had to wear long polyester pants, a button-down long sleeved shirt, and a tie — in 100+ degree heat. Breaks were five minutes, spent entirely at the water fountain, sucking down as much water as possible until the next break.

    All beats cleaning pig pens!

    Patterico (1400a3)

  7. Patterico,
    Long John Silver’s?! I worked at one for about two years while attending community college. Back when we had to wear the polyester striped shirts and cloth hats. I was a cook and it took years for the scars on my arms to go away from getting oil splashed on them.
    That was in 1978 and was the 26th fast food joint I applied at before I got hired.

    voice of reason (10af7e)

  8. I spent a year as a fry cook at KFC, back when it was (for some unknown reason) called “Kentucky Fried Chicken.” Not a fun job, but they subtracted 15¢ per hour and allowed us to eat and drink all we wanted. So, for $3.20 per hour plus a LOT of cokes and fried chicken, we put up with it.

    Worst job – telemarketing magazine subscriptions. Yech.

    carlitos (2bcbb9)

  9. My first two jobs after high school were cleaning offices at night (I was a night owl and not really a people person, so it wasn’t so bad) and delivering flowers for a local florist. Decided to go to college a year or so later.

    Chris (b3f6e4)

  10. My boyfriend in Chicago used to go with his friends to Wisconsin every summer to pick corn for a couple of weeks. They were privileged kids, but they wanted spending and college money, so the folks okayed it.

    I’m sure it was fun, I’m sure they drank lots of beer after work, but they worked.

    (Carlitos, I telemarketed furnaces to people in Chicago–in August! Lasted three days.)

    Patricia (f56a97)

  11. As a student at a SoCal JC in the early 60’s, some of my class-mates actually went to ID to pick potatos. Hard work, but better money than working at the burger shack during summer.

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  12. My first job was at the only movie theater in town. It had very competitive hiring for low pay, and I never wanted to smell (let alone eat) concession food again. But seeing everyone in town was so much fun that it was the Best Job Ever.

    DRJ (5942f5)

  13. For eight months I was a busboy at Long John Silver’s.

    Tell us you didn’t wear the Judge Reinhold “Captain Hook Fish & Chips” outfit from Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

    steve (bb6d0d)

  14. I detassled for 4 years straight…

    Crw boss half way through my first year. Last year I had two kids pass out from heat exhaustion, and one kid almost got heat stroke. That was the day from hell. We finished our rows early, and my exact words to those kids was “If he comes here and tells us to do extra rows, he’ll have to fire me first. No fucking way I’ll let him put you in the cornfield again.”

    Scott Jacobs (a1de9d)

  15. My first paycheck job at 16 … 1970 at $1.25/hr was at Buena Park Florist. First task was learning to strip the thorns off the roses…

    went through lots of bandaids learning that one…

    but sure beat babysitting — about the only job a girl under the age of 16 could land — at 50 cents and hour.

    Darleen (187edc)

  16. “Wetback” = “Nigger”
    As usual you skim the surface of every issue.
    So lazy.

    blah (d5c037)

  17. No, “lazy” is not bothering to read the post and then making a random comment that has nothing to do with the subject.

    I thought you left us, blah. If you’ve come back, you’ll have to return the bon voyage gifts. But then, we’ll be able to have another celebration when you once again leave in a huff.

    Steverino (e00589)

  18. Shorter blah:

    “It’s all about MEEEEEEEEE!”

    Merovign (4744a2)

  19. Great find, Justin. Carlitos, Jay – made me think. VofR, Scott, Chris & DJR… those are memories of a different time. How things have changed. But I wonder: would today’s kids give up their Guitar Hero games and such?

    Vermont Neighbor (c6313b)

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