EVEN DUMBER THAN USUAL

11.11.15 8:15 PM ET

Trump’s ‘Operation Wetback’ Delusion

The Donald’s insane ‘round up all the immigrants’ scheme is as unworkable as it is gross.

I don’t know about you, but I think it says something interesting that in the eight presidential campaigns I’ve covered and written about, this is the first time I’ve seen the need to weave The Daily Stormer into my normal news diet.

But how could one not, with Donald Trump still walking among us? The neo-Nazi Stormer has loved The Donald ever since the famous Mexican rapists speech, so when Trump invoked Dwight Eisenhower last night as the last president who understood how to get those people out of the country, I knew immediately which trusted news source I wanted to go to first.

James Kirkpatrick’s write-up did not disappoint. He opened his dispatch with the complaint (legitimate, it must be said) that Marco Rubio has now walked off the stage of four debates without having been asked to utter a word about his immigration reform support of 2012. When he turned to Trump, the Stormer correspondent first sniffed about the candidate’s “usual lack of polish.”

There followed a string of Trump criticisms, but then came the bolt of thunder: “But none of that matters as Trump stood strong even while being aggressively pressed on immigration… This represents a milestone in the immigration debate. At a stroke, Trump demolished the argument that deporting illegals is not feasible. The only question now is whether we have the will to do it.”

By now, you’ve read all about how Trump was referring, albeit not by name, to Operation Wetback, the program undertaken by the Eisenhower administration in conjunction with the Mexican government to send workers who’d come to America illegally back to the home country. Mexico wanted them back because it was then an under-industrialized country that needed all of its able-bodied men.

This isn’t the first time Trump has mentioned Operation Wetback without mentioning it. He did it on 60 Minutes back in September. At the time, the pro-immigration reform group America’s Voice put out a white paper explaining what Operation Wetback was and what bringing it back would mean. The long and short of it was that we quite simply rounded people up and sent them back at gunpoint. It was ugly business. In the summer of 1955, hundreds of Mexicans we’d sent back got left in the high desert to die.

Would we really do something like that today? No, we wouldn’t. Those were different times. Eisenhower’s attorney general was a fellow named Herbert Brownell. A Nebraska native who went East to Yale Law and practiced at Lord Day & Lord in New York, Brownell was a cultivated man and, as far as I knew until recently, a supporter of civil rights who endorsed Ike’s move to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School. But with respect to the “wetbacks,” Brownell endorsed shooting a few border crossers on site to send a message to the rest of them. I don’t think even Trump’s AG would say something like that.

But the main point isn’t even that we wouldn’t do it today. The main point is that we couldn’t even if we had a president who wanted to. In the 1950s, most of the Mexicans in the United States illegally, in fact virtually all of them, were single males (or maybe married men, but alone) who came here to work. So they were solo players. And they were typically located in only a handful of places—Los Angeles, San Francisco, some other cities, the border area itself.

Today, undocumented immigrants are every kind of person, and they live everywhere. “It’s not like today you’re talking about some easily identifiable group of mostly single men,” Frank Sharry of America’s Voice told me Wednesday. “It’s all kinds of people fully integrated into American life.”

The average time living in the United States among the 11.3 or so million here without papers, says Sharry, is 13 years. They’ve put down roots. One third are homeowners! They’re fathers, mothers, grandparents. And many or even most families involved here are what they call “mixed status”: maybe the husband has a green card, the wife doesn’t, two kids came over the border with them, but two other kids were born here and are citizens. What do you do with these people? The United States of America is going to start breaking up loving families? What do I mean, start? We’ve done it. It wasn’t one of our more glorious chapters. It was called slavery.

It’s a practical impossibility. And that’s to say nothing of the mountains of lawsuits that would quickly pile up. Oh, and also public opinion, which strongly supports legalization over deportation. Sharry says the ratio is about four-to-one among the general public, but that even among Republicans, it’s 60 percent for legalization, 20 percent who would prefer deportation but don’t think it’s practical, and the remaining 20 percent who are over in the Trump-Stormer corner.

No, Donald, most Americans want something very simple and straightforward. It’s called immigration reform. With a path to citizenship for people who follow the new rules. That’s what America wants, but that’s what America cannot get, because of the yahoo right wing and because of cowards and milksops like Marco Rubio, who are even worse. At least the yahoos are straightforward in their stupidity and hatred. Rubio, who first tried to ride immigration reform to the White House and is now trying to ride opposition to same to the identical destination, should be made to answer for it. On this, at least, the Stormer correspondent and I agree.