A Look Back to 1953

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on June 15, 2011

Last week this blog noted a comment by economist Pia Orrenius that U.S immigration policy is effectively "restricting high-skilled immigration, which tends to be legal, and is encouraging low-skilled immigration."

Orrenius is co-author of Beside the Golden Door: U.S. Immigration Reform in a New Era of Globalization. Speaking at the Migration Policy Institute, she noted that low-skilled immigrants make up large numbers of both the "unauthorized" population of 11 million and of the recipients of several hundred thousand green cards that are awarded annually on the basis of family connections with citizens or permanent residents.

I've just come across a 1953 story in the New York Times that noted the same phenomenon. Here is the top of that story. It includes a reference to a colloquial name for the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act, which was co-sponsored by Nevada Sen. Pat McCarran. It also includes the term "wetbacks," which was commonly used at the time:

While the individual screening of seamen, scientists, and other international visitors pursues its laborious course under the McCarran Act, the United States borders are being breached virtually at will by aliens in mounting numbers of as many as 5,000 a day.

The invaders are the Mexican "wetbacks," who swarm across the nation's thinly guarded 1,600-mile southwestern boundary in quest of work. Generally their destination is the big cotton, fruit and vegetable ranches of Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico. But many circulate as far as the Canadian border, Chicago and Pennsylvania and end up in urban service and industrial work.