Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Depression Era Immigration Crisis

In 1936, LAPD Chief James Davis--fed up with a lack of action by federal and state authorities--mobilized the Los Angeles Police and sent them to patrol California's borders, keeping out the "indigent transients" that weighed unfairly on the state and city resources.

This Dorothea Lange photo comes from the Shorpy 100-year Photo Blog. It was taken in March, 1936, in Nipomo, California, and shows a migrant mother, age 32, who has 7 hungry children to feed. These are the types of hobos and vagrants that Chief Davis (he's in the lower right) wanted to keep out--not aliens or illegal immigrants as we would define the term today, but Dust Bowl refugees from Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas. Okies.

On February 4, Davis' expeditionary force of 136 policemen secured the Arizona border. Other groups were sent to man the borders with Nevada and Oregon. Not all Californians approved of Davis' actions, though, and vindictive fights and name calling broke out in Los Angeles City Council Chambers.

Mayor Frank Shaw supported the blockade. He was tired of seeing California become the dumping ground for charity-seeking bums fleeing the harsh winters in other states. They would, Shaw said, "consume the relief so seriously needed by our needy people and to create a crime menace almost beyond conceivable control."

That same month (Feb 36), the Los Angeles Times and other papers reported that since 1930, immigration to the US from outside had virtually halted. Immigrant-bashing had to content itself with intrastate hobos.

Xenophobia at its finest! Davis remained Police Chief until late 1938, and the Federal Courts took up the legality of his "bum brigade" when the ACLU filed a lawsuit.

1 comment:

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