President-elect Donald Trump announced that he will appoint John Kelly, retired Marine Corps general and former commander of United States Southern Command, to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Kelly has made many statements in support of increasing border security and appears to believe that insecurity caused by illegal behavior south of the border poses an “existential” threat to the United States. So far, I have not found any statements by Kelly that reveal his opinions on legal immigration.
David North wrote a short blog pointing out that Kelly would be the third general in charge of immigration. The others were three-star Army General Joseph May Swing (1954–1962) and retired four-star Marine General Leonard Fielding Chapman Jr. (1973–1977). General Swing was an interesting head of the U.S. Bureau of Immigrant and Naturalization. He oversaw and led a vast increase in border enforcement and a systematic liberalization of work visas in the Bracero Program. The latter was essential to severely curtail illegal immigration in the 1950s.
Commissioner Swing realized that he would have to enlist the cooperation of the employers of unlawful migrant workers if he was to have any hope of shrinking the number of unauthorized workers.[i] Such enlistment required the continued deregulation and expansion of the Bracero Program to provide an alternative, legal source of Mexican workers. If the cost of employing Bracero workers was too high, farmers would just hire unauthorized immigrants as they threatened to do numerous times.[ii] Prior to the expansion and partial deregulation of the Bracero Program in 1951, employers in the Rio Grande Valley referred to the Border Patrol as a “Gestapo outfit” that wrenched their willing unlawful workers away from employment.[iii]
Before launching his enforcement operation, named Operation Wetback, Swing traveled and spoke to numerous audiences and farmers assuring them that their unlawful workers would be replaced with legal workers from Mexico on a Bracero work visa.[iv] In Swing’s words, the purpose of a ten-day trip to visit farmers along the border prior to the launch of Operation Wetback was to tell them: “If there is any employer who cannot get legal labor all he has to do is let either the Department of Labor or Immigration know and we will see that he gets it … I am quite emphatic about this because I know I am going to run into some opposition in Southern Texas.”[v] As a result, the illegal immigrant population cratered and was replaced by a legal workforce.