“In sharp contrast to today’s undocumented population, “illegal” European immigrants faced few repercussions. There was virtually no immigration enforcement infrastructure. If caught, few faced deportation. All of those who entered unlawfully before the 1940s were protected from deportation by statutes of limitations, and in the 1930s and 1940s, tens of thousands of unauthorized immigrants like Nora O’Donnell’s grandfather were given amnesty.[viii] The few not covered by a statute of limitations or amnesty had another protection: until 1976 the government rarely deported parents of US citizens.[ix] There were no immigrant restrictions on public benefits until the 1970s, and it wasn’t until 1986 that it became unlawful to hire an undocumented immigrant.
In sum, from the early 1900s through the 1960s, millions of predominantly white immigrants entered the country unlawfully, but faced virtually no threat of apprehension or deportation. Businesses lawfully employed these immigrants, who were eligible for public benefits when they fell on hard times.”
“[x] often in the context of racialized debates targeted mainly at Latinos. Researchers have documented how through the 1960s, racialized views of Mexicans shaped law and bureaucratic practice.[xi] Over the next decade, Congress: ended the Bracero program, which had allowed as many as 800,000 temporary migrants from Mexico annually to work mainly in agriculture; cut legal immigration from Mexico by 50%; and ended the long-standing practice that parents of US citizens wouldn’t be deported. Reducing lawful means of immigrating predictably led to a rise in unauthorized entries, which was met with calls for tougher enforcement.”