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Mexican Repatriation

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Mexican Repatriation

In times of crisis, people often look for a scapegoat. When the Great Depression consumed the United States in the 1930s, Mexican immigrants were an easy and powerless group to blame for the lack of jobs. This period saw the Mexican Repatriation, an unofficial program in effect from 1929 to 1939. A law caused large groups of people of Mexican descent to be rounded up and deported from the United States. Ironically, the fact is that the actions made the economic problems significantly worse.

Mexican Repatriation, A black and white photograph of people waving good bye during Mexican Repatriation, StudySmarter

A crowd waving good-bye during Mexican Repatriation. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Immigration to the United States

Immigration has long been controversial in the United States, despite most citizens being descended from immigrants. In the nineteenth century, many immigrants came to the United States from Europe and Asia. By the early twentieth century, laws had limited immigration from many countries. This left open a large market for cheap, unskilled labor, often filled by immigrants. These opportunities, combined with the instability of the Mexican Civil War, which began in 1910, led many Mexicans to immigrate to the United States.

Mexican Repatriation Causes

The Stock Market crashed in 1929, and the United States was sent into the 1930s' Great Depression. Jobs became scarce. As Americans struggled to find work, they needed someone to blame. Mexican immigrants were blamed for taking jobs from native-born Americans. Ironically, many people of Mexican descent who suffered from Mexican repatriation were native-born Americans.

Political Scapegoats for an Unpopular President

With few jobs available and rising homelessness, the politically powerless Mexican community in the United States was easy to blame. Although the public blamed him for much of the Great Depression, President Herbert Hoover popularized the statement "American jobs for real Americans." The phrase was racially coded. Most Americans understood that by "real Americans," the president meant white Americans. A large portion of the population felt that Americans of Mexican descent were taking resources and jobs that should be going to white people during the Great Depression.

Local Governments

Herbert Hoover's Secretary of Labor, William Doak, went to work supporting the president's agenda. He worked directly with local governments to pass laws making repatriation easier. Some of the laws passed banned hiring Mexican Americans for government positions.

Corporate Actions

With the apparent popularity of Mexican Repatriation, it was not difficult to get many corporations to acquiesce. No legal measures were necessary. Major employers like Ford, U.S. Steel, and Southern Pacific Railroad were on board. They laid off thousands of Mexican Americans who had worked for the companies solely based on their heritage.

Mexican Repatriation, A black and white photograph of a crowd awaiting deportation during Mexican Repatriation, StudySmarter

A Los Angeles crowd awaits deportation. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Mexican Repatriation Time Period

During the 1930s, 1.8 million people were forcibly sent to Mexico. Ironically, 60% of the people sent to Mexico were full United States citizens. Several of them had been born in the United States. Families were torn apart and lives destroyed.

Legal Actions

The United States Justice Department prosecuted 44,000 people for immigration offenses during the period. One of the most interesting things is that number in contrast to the almost two million deportations that occurred during this period. Very little of the Mexican Repatriation was legal or constitutional.

Illegal Actions

Local governments and police forces conducted raids where they rounded up anyone of Mexican heritage. All of those rounded up were forced into trains bound for Mexico. They were not given due process and had broken no laws. The only thing illegal was their heritage, enough to be deported to Mexico.

La Placita Park

In 1931 the Los Angeles Police Department conducted a raid of La Placita Park. Four hundred people of Mexican heritage were rounded up by police on the basis of ethnicity. They were all sent to Mexico without any due process.

Mexican Repatriation Impact

The effects of the Mexican Repatriation were visible. Many families of Mexican descent were torn apart. Even those of Mexican descent that stay in the United States had a difficult time finding work and experienced discrimination. Every day they would have to fear being sent on a train to Mexico.

An economic overview of the Mexican Repatriation makes clear that it backfired. Mexican immigrants largely performed unskilled labor and farm work. Without those workers, white Americans, who were often in supervisory or management positions over Mexican workers, did not have roles for themselves, nor did they want to downgrade and fill the vacancies. Additionally, it caused the white Americans working in trades to lose their "Mexican" customers. Mexican Repatriation negatively impacted many jobs held by white Americans.

Mexican Repatriation Effects on Mexican Society

Those returning to Mexico or even entering for the first time faced discrimination. The Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920, also known as the Mexican Civil War, was extremely hard on the country. Those who fought the war viewed expatriates as people who had given up on their country and fled to the United States.

End of Mexican Repatriation

Many issues afflicting the United States changed with WWII. The Bracero program ultimately brought many Mexicans back to the United States explicitly to fill unmet labor needs. In 2005, the state of California passed the Apology Act, which formally apologized for Mexican Repatriation.

Although Franklin Delano Roosevelt reversed many of the Hoover era's responses to the Great Depression, Mexican Repatriation was different. Roosevelt took no stance one way or the other on Mexican Repatriation. Instead of standing against the illegal deportation of American citizens, Roosevelt waited until there was a labor shortage. He then found a new way to bring Mexican immigrants into the United States when domestic needs were met during the war effort.

The Bracero Program

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed an executive order in 1942 to create the Mexican Farm Labor Program. This program soon became known as the Bracero Program, after the Spanish word for "arms," brazos. With the onset of WWII, the United States faced a labor shortage. The program created diplomatic accords between the United States and Mexico. It brought more than four million Mexicans to work in the United States by 1964.

Mexican Repatriation - Key takeaways

  • Many Americans were without work due to the Great Depression.
  • President Hoover's handling of the Great Depression was very unpopular, and the political class scapegoated Mexican Immigrants.
  • People of Mexican heritage were rounded up and deported with no due process.
  • Many of those deported were United States citizens, and some were born in the U.S.
  • Repatriation ended when the United States needed Mexican labor during WWII.

Frequently Asked Questions about Mexican Repatriation

Mexican Repatriation was when almost two million people were rounded up and deported to Mexico due to their Mexican heritage. Many were United States citizens, even native-born citizens. 

Many familiaes and lives were torn apart by Mexican Repatriation. Some economists and historians believe that the repatriation hurt the economy as the people deported provided management and trade jobs whose services were no longer needed without the Mexican community requiring them. 

The Great Depression of the 1930s led to low employment. President Herbet Hoover's handling of the situation was extremely unpopular. He used Mexican imigrants as a scape goat for why White Americans could not find jobs. 

The intention of Mexican repatriation was to force people of Mexican descent out of the United States to open up their jobs for White Americans. 

Deportation is just forcing someone out of a country, whereas repatriation is sending someone back to the country they came from. Many of the "repatriated" in the case of Mexican Repatriation were native-born U.S. citizens. 

Final Mexican Repatriation Quiz


Many of those sent to Mexico during Mexican Repatriation were US citizens

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Most of Mexican Repatriation occured through a new legal process 

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False, due process was simply ignored 

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Why did Mexican Repatriation end?

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The US needed workers during WWII

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How were people sent to Mexico under Mexican Repatriation treated in Mexico?

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Poorly, many in Mexico felt the repatriates had abandoned their country 

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What were Mexican immigrants a scapegoat for during Mexican Repatriation?

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The economic hardship of the Great Depression 

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What did most Americans understand by the phrase "American jobs for real Americans"?

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That white Americans deserved jobs that were being taken by Mexican Immigrants.

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What happened at La Placita Park?

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400 people of Mexican heritage were rounded up and deported.

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How did President Franklin Delano Roosevelt feel about Mexica Repatriation?

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He did not talk about it 

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How did California address Mexican Repatriation in 2005?

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The state governmnet formally apologized 

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What was the Bracero Program?

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The program to bring Mexican workers to the United States during WWII

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