LATINO VOICES
11/26/2013 11:56 am ET

Drew Turiano Calls For Another 'Operation Wetback'

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Republicans working on Latino outreach might want to avoid this candidate.

Drew Turiano, a Tea Party-affiliated real estate investor joining the race for a Montana congressional seat, called for “another Operation Wetback” in comments published in the local press on Monday -- apparently unaware that current deportation levels exceed those of the 1950s.

“It was called ‘Operation Wetback’ and that policy repatriated 1.4 million illegal aliens that were in America from Mexico,” Turiano tld KXLF in Montana. “He repatriated them along with their American-born children. President Eisenhower did that, it was called Operation Wetback. I think America needs another Operation Wetback.”

Calls to deport people at random aren’t likely to play well among Latinos, the great majority of whom support a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented. It’s not legal to deport U.S. citizens because of the immigration status of their parents.

Many Latinos would also likely take exception to naming a deportation program “wetback,” a derogatory term used primarily to refer to Mexicans, particularly undocumented immigrants. U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) caused an uproar among Latino politicians in March when he used the term “wetbacks” to refer to undocumented immigrants during a radio interview. He later apologized for using the term.

How Latinos react may not concern Turiano much, since Montana’s 30,000 Hispanics make up only 3 percent of the state's population.

But it’s unclear why he’s drawing the comparison at all, given that current deportation levels top those of Eisenhower’s era.

The Texas State Historical Association’s “Handbook of Texas” says Immigration and Naturalization Services likely exaggerated its claim to have repatriated 1.3 million undocumented immigrants under “Operation Wetback,” because those numbers include estimates of people who voluntarily repatriated before and after the program started.

Even if the numbers Turiano cites were accurate, they would pale in comparison to current deportation levels. The Obama administration has set the record for deporting the most undocumented immigrants of any U.S. president, at roughly 400,000 per year. Obama deported more than 1.5 million undocumented immigrants in his first term alone.

The small-government candidate also appeared to underestimate the cost associated with mass deportation.

“What will it take to repatriate maybe 20 million, maybe 20,000 officials,” he said, overestimating the undocumented population by a wide margin. “It’s not that difficult. It was done once in American history. It can be done again.”

The U.S. government spent $18 billion on immigration enforcement in 2012, according to the Migration Policy Institute. That amounts to more than what the U.S. governments spends on the FBI, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshal Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives combined.

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