Donald Trump is definitely not a racist xenophobe, he’s just a normal presidential candidate whose immigration plan would be modeled after an Eisenhower-era mass deportation called “Operation Wetback.” The real estate tycoon and seasonally appropriate squash made approving reference to likable Ike’s Mexican roundup during Tuesday night’s GOP debate:

“Let me just tell you that Dwight Eisenhower. Good president. Great president. People liked him. I liked him. I Like Ike, right? The expression, ‘I like Ike.’ Moved 1.5 million illegal immigrants out of this country. Moved them just beyond the border, they came back. Moved them again beyond the border, they came back. Didn’t like it. Moved ‘em waaaay south, they never came back. Dwight Eisenhower. You don’t get nicer, you don’t get friendlier. They moved 1.5 million people out. We have no choice. We. Have. No. Choice.”

This was Operation Wetback, a 1954 initiative that saw undocumented immigrants packed into overcrowded trucks and buses—or boats resembling an “eighteenth century slave ship”—and transported to remote parts of the Mexican desert. Left with nothing, in the middle of nowhere, dozens of people caught up in Operation Wetback died of heat stroke.

And this is the policy Trump continually cites to prove he can exile 11 million undocumented immigrants from the U.S. “in a very humane way, a very nice way.”

And, lack of humanity and civil rights aside, Operation Wetback wasn’t even effective. UCLA historian Kelly Lytle Hernandez told the Washington Post it barely made a dent on the number of undocumented people living in the U.S., and the 1.5 million figure is highly exaggerated.

“The U.S. Border Patrol deported no more than 250,000 people,” during the Eisenhower administration, she said.

That’s a far cry from the 11 million people Trump is promising to take across the border.

Turns out a much bigger success at reducing what Trump would call “illegals”—albeit with inhumane conditions of its own—was the Bracero program of the same time period, which allowed Mexican farmworkers to enter the U.S. legally as resident aliens. (Jeb Bush’s father-in-law, José Maria Garnica Rodríguez, actually became a Bracero in 1960.)

It almost sounds like letting people work is more effective than packing them into cattle cars and dropping them off in the desert, and Operation Wetback is a crazy, antiquated aberration that appeals directly to white supremacists and Ann Coulter.


[h/t Mother Jones]