CBS Radio – “The Wetbacks” – April 11, 1954 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Continuing our series of milestone Documentaries for Radio recorded in the 1950s and 60s with a report on the then-current state of immigration into the U.S. – entitled The Wetbacks, it dealt specifically with the state of illegal immigration along the Mexico/U.S. border and what was being done to curtail it.
What’s interesting about this documentary, aside from having a reporter, who is fluent in Spanish equipped with a portable tape recorder and sent from Mexico into the U.S. to see how far he could go before he either got caught or was free from concerns about Immigration and Border Patrols, was the notion that, not so much the numbers of Mexicans coming across the border but that one or more could be Communist agents or terrorists, posing as Mexicans, bent on doing destruction in cities across the country.
In 1954 that was the real concern among most Americans – although many were concerned, then as now, that this flood of illegals was coming across the border to steal jobs and nothing could stop them, save for stepped up policing of border crossing points, we were more concerned over sabotage and the ever-present Red Scare.
But for the issue of illegal immigration, many solutions were being bandied about, including re-instating the old Bracero Program, which was introduced in the U.S. during the War in order to bolster the workforce for America’s war effort.
The takeaway from this documentary is that not much has happened to change the issue and that the initial solution of hiring Wetbacks (a term now considered derisive, although it was in common use in the 1950s) was ultimately good for the economy, whether they were here legally or not. The Bracero Program sought to put an end to illegal immigration from Mexico (and Central America) by offering it legally, to a degree. The one drawback for many was the sheer amount of paperwork and bureaucracy involved just to work in the U.S. – and permanent residency was not guaranteed or even offered. Coupled with the fact that most employers, while on the surface decried the flood of illegal aliens into the country, were taking advantage of illegals by seeing them as a cheap and plentiful source of workers, often willing to take on jobs their legal brethren were loathed to accept. So there’s that.
But for the next hour it’s a glimpse of an issue very much at the forefront for Americans, particularly those living within proximity of the borders – and how in 1954, the issues and the solutions to immigration were much the same as they are in 2022.
Here is that documentary done for CBS Radio entitled “The Wetbacks” first broadcast on April 11, 1954.
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