By Ricky Garza, Communications Department, NCLR
That is what greeted Ruben Aguilar at a bus stop in Laredo, Texas, upon returning to his native country in 1945. Wrongfully deported to Mexico at the age of six, he could only return to the U.S. after being drafted to serve in World War II.
Friday’s StoryCorps on NPR features Mr. Aguilar, a U.S. citizen by birth who was deported along with his undocumented parents as part of the Mexican Repatriation Program enacted at the height of the Great Depression. Under President Hoover’s direction, hundreds of thousands of Mexican Americans were rounded up, loaded onto trains, and deported from cities across America to the interior of Mexico, where they were left and barred from reentry. The majority were U.S. citizens.
After Aguilar was forcibly detained and deported with his family, he lived out his childhood there until he received a piece of mail from the Selective Service, which surely had not forgotten the true nature of his immigration status. He was drafted to join the U.S. Army back in Chicago, his birthplace, and so in 1945 he returned to Illinois for the first time since his deportation.
Instead of an apology or acknowledgement that he had been wronged by his own country, he was greeted by a segregated bathroom in Laredo. Despite such injustices typical of the segregation era, Aguilar went on to serve his native country and returned to tell his tale.
The story of Aguilar’s deportation is all too reminiscent of the current immigration struggle. While many aspects of life for Hispanic Americans have improved since segregation and the indiscriminate raids of the 1930s, undocumented immigrants and their U.S. citizen family members are still impacted by an unprecedented investment in immigration enforcement and deportations.
Just last week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) finally relented in prosecuting Ruth Montaño’s case, a suspicious affair in which the undocumented mother of three U.S. citizen children was met with six police cars at her California home. She was charged with “maintaining an animal making excessive noise” after complaints about her Chihuahua and poodle prompted neighbors to call the police, but this led to a week of detention by ICE agents, who begin deportation proceedings.
To prevent future family separations, the violation of rights of U.S. citizens, and undue pain inflicted on undocumented immigrants, we need to fix our broken immigration laws. We look forward to seeing a bill soon that will provide commonsense immigration reform that brings our country out of the past once and for all.