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Pina & Orlando: 80 Years Apart but Similar Stories

In the 1920s and ’30s of American history, the discourse surrounding illegal immigration and subsequent “illegal aliens” was at an all-time high. To combat “illegal aliens” supposedly taking American born citizen’s jobs, the U.S. government launched a Mexican Repatriation effort. At first glance, the movement aimed to deport those in America illegally and those who were contributing to the negative aspects of society (ex. financial crashes, rising crime rates, etc.). However, in reality, both legally documented and non-documented Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were rounded up by local law enforcement and held in local facilities. Then, without due process, they were deported to Mexico (regardless of where the person was actually born). Those who were not caught in raids were pressured by local authorities to ‘self-deport.’ As a result, numerous deported individuals were displaced upon arriving in Mexico or, in extreme cases, were killed by other citizens. Some had never lived in Mexico before being deported there.

Due to the mass round-ups and governmental pressure to self-deport on anybody who looked remotely Mexican and the lack of due process, there are no official records of those deported from America. However, there are some personal historical accounts of those who lived through the deportation. One of the individuals impacted by this Repatriation Effort was Ignacio Pina. Pina was born in the United States, so under federal law, he was considered an American Citizen. He has since shown his U.S. birth certificate multiple times to prove he was unjustifiably deported. When he was 6 years old (sometime in the 1930s), authorities came to his and his family’s home in Montana. They were placed in a local correctional facility for about a week, and they were deported to Mexico without any of their things. It created a very difficult life for Pina and his family. Decades later, he moved back to the United States and has continued his life in California; however, there has no compensation for the Repatriation victims.

While the U.S. government does not have the overt ability to round up “anybody who looks Mexican” anymore, there are legalized forms of deportation without due process occurring in present-day America. These deportations happen under the guise of color-blind laws. However, they are still occurring disproportionately to racial minorities and without due process.

Orlando was a high school student at East Boston High School. He had entered the country by himself at 17 and obtained a student visa that allowed him to apply for a green card and go to school. One day on his way to work, he was one of 60 alleged ms-13 members who were arrested, charged, and subsequently deported to El Salvador in a mass-deportation effort in Boston. He had no criminal record, was given no due process, and no idea that he was officially considered a gang affiliate in any crime database. When given the paperwork, his alleged gang status was based on a sports team hat and the color shoelaces that he was wearing. The officer who determined Orlando was a gang affiliate did so based on his own self-obtained knowledge of what a gang member “looks like.” Later investigations have shown that most of the “gang members or affiliates” that were deported were based on similar, arbitrary criteria that could apply to anyone. Boston’s gang database has since been opened and investigated, showing significant associations between presence in the gang database system and being a racial/ethnic minority group member.

Any google search of “gang member” will show what most people perceive as intrinsic characteristics of being a gang member – being Black or Brown and wearing specific attire. While these things do not naturally indicate gang membership, the U.S. government and media have perpetuated the idea that they must mean gang membership. It leads to unjustly applying the law in a legitimate, color-blind way.

While the specific reasons and laws which the cases fell under differed, Pina and Orlando have devastatingly similar stories. Both historical contexts involved tumultuous financial and various societal downfalls in American society, creating the need to blame this downfall on someone. Racial and ethnic minorities have historically been the source of this blame and continue to be. It created legitimate means to carry out mass deportations of minorities. Both Pina and Orlando were legally in America by federal government’s standards; however, in both cases, they were deported with no due process to countries that they were not familiar with. Pina was deported involuntarily as a child, but Orlando was pressured to ‘self-deport’ as others in the Repatriation effort were. Pina was involved in a federal level mass deportation, while Orlando was in a city level mass deportation. Pina and Orlando are two particular instances, but thousands of minorities have been deported unjustifiably, and there will be more who are in the future. Under the façade of law and order, the U.S. government has been able to create ways and will continue to develop ways to get rid of large amounts of people that are considered “undesirable” to the American image.

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