How Eisenhower solved illegal border crossings from Mexico

How Eisenhower solved illegal border crossings from Mexico

By John Dillin
WASHINGTON – George W. Bush isn’t the first Republican president to face a full-blown immigration crisis on the US-Mexican border.

Fifty-three years ago, when newly elected Dwight Eisenhower moved into the White House, America’s southern frontier was as porous as a spaghetti sieve. As many as 3 million illegal migrants had walked and waded northward over a period of several years for jobs in California, Arizona, Texas, and points beyond.

President Eisenhower cut off this illegal traffic. He did it quickly and decisively with only 1,075 United States Border Patrol agents – less than one-tenth of today’s force. The operation is still highly praised among veterans of the Border Patrol.

Although there is little to no record of this operation in Ike’s official papers, one piece of historic evidence indicates how he felt. In 1951, Ike wrote a letter to Sen. William Fulbright (D) of Arkansas. The senator had just proposed that a special commission be created by Congress to examine unethical conduct by government officials who accepted gifts and favors in exchange for special treatment of private individuals.

General Eisenhower, who was gearing up for his run for the presidency, said “Amen” to Senator Fulbright’s proposal. He then quoted a report in The New York Times, highlighting one paragraph that said: “The rise in illegal border-crossing by Mexican ‘wetbacks’ to a current rate of more than 1,000,000 cases a year has been accompanied by a curious relaxation in ethical standards extending all the way from the farmer-exploiters of this contraband labor to the highest levels of the Federal Government.”

Years later, the late Herbert Brownell Jr., Eisenhower’s first attorney general, said in an interview with this writer that the president had a sense of urgency about illegal immigration when he took office.

America “was faced with a breakdown in law enforcement on a very large scale,” Mr. Brownell said. “When I say large scale, I mean hundreds of thousands were coming in from Mexico [every year] without restraint.”


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