Dissertation on Mexican Immigration to the United States
America, as the saying goes, is a nation of immigrants. So are other countries, perhaps all other countries, if one delves back far enough into the prehistory of human wanderings. The flow of immigration in the contemporary history of the United States is not similar to traditional patterns of immigration occurred before. Europe accounts for only about 13 percent of the recent immigrants (Tichenor, 2002). Central and South American and Caribbean countries send significant numbers, as do several Asian countries. Immigration into the United States is now overwhelmingly from the third world. From the statistical and practical perspectives, the largest number of immigrants is coming from Mexico, and these immigrants, both conventional and illegal, represent an oppressed population.
Scholars and specialists on immigration have approached the subject from many perspectives. Some use economic models, some sociological. Some studies focus on social change at a large-scale level, some on individual decision making. Some are historical, others are ethnographic and still others are abstract and even mathematical. Interestingly, the experience of Mexican immigration has led social scientists to develop new theories of immigration that focus on family decision making (Monto, 1994). More than any other stream of immigrants in American history, Mexicans come to the United States without breaking their personal and family connections at home. Many travel back and forth across the border frequently. They come to the United States intending not to make a permanent home but to increase their incomes to make better lives for themselves and their families in Mexico. Many urban and rural communities in the Southwest are now dominated by people who feel a more permanent commitment to Mexico than to the United States - and, correspondingly, many communities in Mexico are populated by a majority of people who have spent some significant part of their lives in the United States (Monto, 1994).
The United States shares a 2,000-mile border with Mexico. In the nineteenth century, the United States annexed almost half of Mexican territory, and the Mexican population with it. Mexico has sent people across its shifting northern border at least since the time that statistics were first gathered. The latest period, however, has seen a huge increase in Mexican immigration. From 1961 through 1993, over 4 million Mexicans arrived legally, or 21 percent of the total documented immigration into the country (Tichenor, 2002). When the undocumented arrivals are factored in, the Mexican share of immigration in the fourth wave is well above one-quarter.
Most Mexicans come into California or the southwestern states, particularly Texas - both of which were formerly part of Mexico. Over most of American history, a majority of Mexican immigrants provided agricultural labor. In this respect, the Mexican immigrants differed from the Europeans, whose backgrounds were often rural but who immigrated to American cities. An acute labor shortage in the fields of the Southwest during World War II led to the American and the Mexican governments’ negotiating the Bracero program (Monto, 1994). Under this program, Mexicans entered the country temporarily in order to provide seasonal agricultural labor. They were guaranteed certain standards of wages and working conditions (although, in practice, the guarantees often failed), and they returned to Mexico after the work was finished. The program was dropped between 1947 and 1951 and then resumed again until 1964 (Monto, 1994). In peak years, it brought almost half a million workers to the United States.
The Bracero program ended, but the demand for Mexican workers did not. Immigration, both legal and illegal, grew from the 1960s until the present. The border became porous, with people moving back and forth across it. In earlier periods, Mexican migrants were concentrated in certain specific sending communities, but over time, the appeal of emigration has broadened. The 1980s and 1990s have seen “a significant flow into the United States of non-Spanish-speaking Indians from Mexico, the largest group being Mixtecs from the southern state of Oaxaca” (Zabin et al, 1993, p.51).
In the United States, Latinos have become the second-largest ethnic minority group - and Mexican Americans constitute the largest number of Latinos (Tichenor, 2002). Mexican Americans remain concentrated in California and the Southwest, where they have a major effect on the culture. Native Mexican Americans, or Chicanos, along with Mexican immigrants, provide the largest share of agricultural labor in the region. The struggles of the United Farm Workers, under the charismatic leadership of the late Cesar Chavez, to organize them and improve their living conditions caught the imagination and sympathy of much of the country. Still, Mexican immigrants, and the Mexican American population generally, are no longer predominantly agricultural (Monto, 1994). Like other immigrant ethnic groups, they have moved to the cities. Los Angeles has become a principal center of Mexican population especially East Los Angeles and, increasingly, the formerly predominantly African American area of South Central Los Angeles.
With a few exceptions, countries «specialize» in the types of immigrants they send to the United States. The principal exception is Mexico, which ranks first in both conventional and illegal immigrants (and many legal immigrants from Mexico have had one or more previous periods of U.S. residence as undocumented immigrants) (Tichenor, 2002). Still, of the total immigration during the 1980s from Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala, only 30 percent was legal, and 70 percent was undocumented, according to the most informed demographic analysis (Fix and Passel, 1994).
The sources of conventional immigration are spread broadly, with a concentration in the Caribbean region (Mexico, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador) and Asia (the Philippines, China, India and Korea). Although Mexico is the largest single source, it does not dominate. In 1993, the top ten countries sent just 58 percent of the total conventional immigrants (Tichenor, 2002). People move to the United States for a variety of reasons. Part of the fascination of learning about the subject is to begin to understand the variety, not to try to reduce it to a single cause. Jorge Durand and Douglas Massey illustrated this particularly clearly in the case of Mexican immigration to the United States (Durand and Massey, 1992). In a review of studies of thirty seven Mexican communities, they found enormous differences. Some migrants came from relatively stable communities, others from disrupted communities (Durand and Massey, 1992). Some intended to leave Mexico for good, others for only a brief time. Some migrants were from the poorest stratum of their communities; others were relatively prosperous. Some owned land at home, some did not and some used their U.S. earnings to purchase land. In some cases, the commercialization of local agriculture opened new options to poor people and therefore reduced immigration to the United States; in other cases, commercialization led to unemployment, deprivation, and more emigration (Durand and Massey, 1992). Some communities sent almost exclusively adult men to the United States, whereas others sent balanced groups of women and children along with the men (Durand and Massey, 1992). In some Mexican communities, a majority of the people had migrated to the United States at some point in their lives, and in other communities only a small minority. Among the thirty-seven communities, almost every possible pattern was found. Durand and Massey concluded that “the social structures of individual communities differ greatly, that it is the interaction of community structure with individual and family preferences that leads to the decision to migrate and that therefore a large number of different patterns and causes naturally emerge” (Durand and Massey, 1992, p.92).
At current moment, there are about 10 to 11 million illegal migrants in the United States who are doing the jobs most Americans rather not do (Toro-Morn & Alicea, 2004). Some people suggest that the illegal immigrants should all be deported, but they do not realize the severe economic consequences this would cause America and it’s employers. Reforms have been attempted in order to create a solution, but it seems as though nothing has actually solved the problem. President Bush addressed the situation by sharing a proposal for reforming immigration laws. President Bush wants to create a “guest-worker” program that “would go hand in hand with a stiffer, more improved border security program” (Toro-Morn & Alicea, 2004, p.91-92). Bush also added that U.S. employers have to demonstrate that no American workers are willing to do a job before it can offer it to a person under the “guest-worker” program. Those under this program are not guaranteed to not be deported at the end of their “guest-worker” period. This program would help strengthen security because it would create identification cards that would allow authorities to keep track of everyone under this program. Simultaneously, the Senate Judiciary Committee has proposed its own measure by Senators John McCain and Edward Kennedy (Toro-Morn & Alicea, 2004). The idea they posses, which is similar to Bush’s, would allow current illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S., pay a fee, and apply for the “guest-worker” program. This plan would allow about 400,000 new “guest-workers” into the country each year and after six years of living and working in America they would be able to apply for U.S. citizenship (Toro-Morn & Alicea, 2004). The proposal that was supported by Bill Frist, the Senate Majority Leader, and the one supported by the House of Representatives would reform the system in a much stricter fashion (Toro-Morn & Alicea, 2004). Their proposal would make illegal immigrants felons, increase the penalties on U.S. employers who hire these illegal immigrants, and would take a huge step at improving border control. The idea is to construct a fence along one-third of the Mexican border in hopes that it will prevent people from easily crossing the border.
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