Child Watch® Column:
Ripping America Apart

Release Date: February 3, 2017

Marian Wright Edelman

“I had never been to Mexico. We left with just one trunk full of belongings. No furniture. A few metal cooking utensils. A small ceramic pitcher, because it reminded me of my mother.” – Emilia Castañeda, born in the U.S.A., deported from Los Angeles County

If you are reeling from the series of Executive Orders and Memoranda issued by President Trump in his first two weeks in office, and horrified by what clearly seems to be an unconstitutional, un-American and unjust ban on Muslims from seven countries that has caused outrage at home and abroad, keep reading. When candidate Donald Trump first promised a “deportation force” during the Presidential campaign, that idea sounded inhumane and disturbed many of us. But did you know it’s been tried before? When Emilia Castañeda was nine years old, she and her brother and father were forced to leave their home in Los Angeles on one-way train tickets to Mexico paid for by Los Angeles County – leaving behind the house her father had purchased before the Depression, most of their possessions, and even the small plot of land where Emilia’s mother was buried. Emilia wasn’t able to return home to Los Angeles for nine years. She was one of an estimated one to two million people pressured or forced to leave the United States for Mexico in the 1930s.

President Herbert Hoover’s government called the program “Mexican Repatriation,” but scholars estimate about 60 percent of the people forced to “repatriate” to Mexico were actually U.S. citizens like Emilia. Mexican Americans were rounded up indiscriminately at workplaces or handed train tickets by social workers in cities and towns across the country. Historian Francisco Balderrama estimates one-third of Los Angeles’s Mexican population was expelled between 1929 and 1944. Many Americans don’t know about this shameful chapter in our history. Those who lived through it and whose families were separated and destroyed in the process are now watching with horror as history seems poised to repeat itself.

Families like the deported Castañedas were swept up in scapegoating that blamed them for taking away scarce jobs and taking up spaces on welfare relief rolls at the height of the Depression. The same language is back along with similar tactics. Drafts have been circulating of potential executive orders by President Trump that would “deny admission to any alien who is likely to become a public charge.” Disqualifying immigrants in the past for being poor or arriving without a bank account or a job lined up would have radically reshaped the narrative of American history and America itself. It would certainly have kept out the immigrant ancestors of millions of current Americans of every color, ethnicity and faith. These new draft orders appear to have that goal.

Restrictions circulating in draft form would make it harder for immigrants to enter the American workforce. Existing federal law already prohibits undocumented immigrants from obtaining federal welfare benefits, and prohibits new permanent residents or green-card holders from qualifying for welfare and other public benefits during their first five years of residency. The draft order would target immigrant families legally receiving a certain level of public assistance like food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Medicaid after five years of residency for being a public charge, and make that a deportable offense. In other words, being poor or falling on hard times during an economic downturn would be a crime. All this is despite the fact that studies show poor immigrants are less likely to use welfare than poor native born Americans and that immigrants are a net benefit to the American economy.

Executive orders like these, if made final, would pit poor children of immigrants against other poor children when all are America’s children and deserve an equal opportunity to reach their potential. By targeting those who legally receive public benefits and marking them for deportation, the draft order criminalizes compassion, sows fear and will rip families with mixed immigrant status apart. The draft order is based on myths and lies, rather than truth and consequences, and goes against the most basic tenets of all the major faith traditions and American values. For more than 40 years the Children’s Defense Fund has been working with Republicans and Democrats to keep families together in the best interest of the children. In these dark days for America, we must speak out, resist using any and every nonviolent way possible and never give up until our nation can regain its bearings.

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Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

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Here's what others have said:

Submitted by drmom at: February 8, 2017
I am appalled at everything that Donald Trump proposes. He is an un-American bully who thinks that he is above reproach for the rude, unkind, inappropriate and unjust remarks that he makes on topics about which he knows absolutely nothing. In the interest of "change" he has surrounded himself with a cadre of billionaires who could have no understanding about the lives of average citizens and their families.

Submitted by Vtheresa at: February 8, 2017
Let me first say Mrs. Edelman your my hero! There are people whom need alot of accolades and don't deserve them! And there are people whom deserve a lot of accolades, but don't need them! You are the latter of the two! Children's lives in America have been improved greatly because of you. Thank you! You give a powerful voice to our most vulnerable members of society. You do it with truth & undisputable facts & information. I'm so glad you wrote this article. I live in San Diego, 6 miles from Tijuana, Mexico. Due to proximity there's a dominate cultural influence. I'm originally from Oakland. When I was preschool age my older cousins took me often to go in the Black Panthers headquarters. It was a very 'kid friendly' environment. I have a strong sense of self as an African American. My Dad was in the navy & retired here in San Diego. We were always exposed to a diverse group of people, it was beautiful. I've done Community organizing, I feel that's a part of my purpose. I know when working with an oppressed people, one must learn the history of the people to understand what oppressed them! I know that during the 1930's Mexicans were rounded up because whites were experiencing poverty, like people of color had been and wanted to blame someone! The city of Los Angeles main labor force was Mexican during that time in our countries history. California's state constitution was written in English & Spanish! One of th saddest things is ALL OF THIS PART OF THE COUNTRY WAS MEXICO until our government got greedy and took more than was sold to them! White America in authority has always & still will fabricate any lie to justify their wrong doing! Then implement some illegal reason to steal from those whom don't look like them. Moving swiftly hoping we don't collectively wake up & push back! When WASP raises it's ugly head, killing, stealing & destroying, people of color need to lock arms & stand our ground! As James Baldwin said introducing Angela Davis's book, Army Of The Wrong, "If they come for you at night, they'll come for me in the morning!"

Submitted by lindsay at: February 7, 2017
the scarcity of jobs is due to robots and technology and automation - not "immigrants" taking jobs -

Submitted by Badger at: February 7, 2017
It seems that the list of dark chapters in our nation's history is endless. Mexicans aren't only an immigrant group. Their territory, ( the southwest of the U.S.) was invaded by whites coming illegally into Texas in the 1820s and 1830s. Whites were really the first "illegals." Where do you see this reflected in the history books or in the media?

Submitted by Robin at: February 7, 2017
Unfortunately, these actions are in line with the history of america. These are the bullying tactic that has been used by the government and its racist counterparts. These actions are an affront to the constitution but I almost forget it only applies to anglo Americans. I was raised to believe that my vote counts but at this juncture in my life I am discouraged that we are so selfish and separate that we no longer see humanity in human beings. May God have mercy on us for our silence in action.

Submitted by Bill at: February 7, 2017
You can count on my resistence.

Submitted by vcruey at: February 7, 2017
angry that the wealth of our country is taken and given to political groups that target the poor and our children

Submitted by imagine at: February 7, 2017
Great column, sad time for America, where a majority say they believe in God, but forget that He says what you do unto the least of these, you do also to me.

Submitted by lizzie at: February 6, 2017
excellent article. thanks for sharing this experience and perspective.

Submitted by Nina at: February 6, 2017
Thank you!