Mexican migration

Mexican migration



Mexican migration refers to the migration of large numbers of Mexican nationals to neighboring countries, most notably the United States.

Causes and Origins

Following the Mexican American War which was concluded by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, and later, the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, approximately 300,000 Mexican nationals found themselves living within the United States. Throughout the rest of the 19th century and during the early years of the 20 century, Mexican migration was not subject to any restrictions, and Mexicans were free to move across the border, and often did so, typically in order to work in professions like the construction of the railway system, or as seasonal agricultural laborers. The immigration laws of the United States during this time generally allowed exemptions for Mexico, while being more restrictive to citizens of the Eastern Hemisphere.[1]

Mexicans received special allowances under United States immigration law due to the importance of Mexican labor in the United States economy. One example of these allowances is the Immigration Act of 1917. Under this act, all potential immigrants would have to pass a literacy test and pay a head tax.[citation needed] At the request of growers in the southwest who depended on farm labor from Mexico, the Secretary of Labor waived those requirements for Mexican immigrants.[2] The groups interested in the availability of inexpensive labor ensured that the immigration laws in place throughout the early twentieth century did not adversely affect the movement of Mexican migrants, in spite of calls on the part of some of the southern states’ congressmen to put an end to the open border policies.[citation needed]

Effects of Governmental Policies on Mexican Immigration

Restrictive Regulations

The economic crisis of 1929 brought an abrupt end to the special allowances that had been allowed for Mexican immigrants.[3] With the beginning of the Great Depression, the worldwide economic slowdown and the desperate search for jobs within the United States, anti-immigration sentiment rose. Thousands of Mexicans were forced back across the border and barriers to future immigrants were constructed. From 1929 to 1931, legal Mexican immigration entries fell by 95%, and in the next ten years as many as 400,000 Mexican citizens were repatriated.[4]

More Admissive Regulations

The limitations on Mexican immigration lasted until the beginning of World War II, when the United States found itself short of labor. In 1942 the United States and Mexico instituted the Bracero Program. Under this arrangement, millions of Mexican laborers were contracted to complete agricultural work in the United States. While under contract they were given housing and received a minimum wage. The program was intended to provide the United States with temporary workers while many working-aged men were away at war. In order to ensure that braceros did not stay in the United States, their wives and families were not allowed to accompany them in the U.S. Additionally, 10% of each worker’s wage was withheld to be given back upon the worker’s return to Mexico.

The Bracero Program allowed agribusiness access to a large pool of labor that had virtually no civil rights, and no recourse to address growing injustices. This inequity was seen in poor working conditions and the decrease in agricultural wages, which during the 1950s, actually dropped below the levels they were at during World War II.[citation needed] As the war ended, few returning soldiers returned to the jobs that the braceros were holding, and instead, they moved on to more industrial areas and reinforced the belief that immigrants take on the jobs that Americans wouldn’t be willing to do.

The Mexican government’s participation and oversight of the treatment of their workers in this program declined over the years, despite remittances from the program that made up a large part of its domestic economy. The United States began encouraging braceros to cross into Mexico then return illegally to the United States.[citation needed] Upon return they could become legal citizens, and this eliminated any program contracts as well as the ability of the Mexican government to intervene in any future labor relations. In addition to this practice of creating legal citizens of former braceros, thousands of illegal immigrants were crossing the border in search of the opportunity promised by the idea of steady employment and eventual prosperity of the Bracero Program.

A Return to a more Closed Border

In response to the growing number of Mexicans entering illegally, the United States government implemented Operation Wetback. Under the direction of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the Border Patrol began deporting Mexicans who were in the United States illegally, and in 1954, up to one million Mexicans were deported.[citation needed] Operation Wetback ended not long after its launch, due in part to complaints regarding the violence involved in the deportations, and the fact that in many cases children of immigrants who were United States citizens were deported with their parents.[5]

Continuing Migration

Although the Bracero Program ended in 1964, the migration of Mexican workers did not. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 which had put limits on the total number of visas granted, was amended in 1965 following the termination of the Bracero Program. These amendments put an end to the quota system, and instead, created a total number of visas allowed to the Western Hemisphere. Exceptions to that total number were granted to spouses, minors and parents of United States citizens, however, the total allotment of 120,000 in 1965 still was not enough to address the demand for visas from Mexico. By 1976, there was a two-year waiting period for any eligible applicant from the Western Hemisphere before they could receive a visa.[6]

Displaced Workers in Northern Mexico

A contributing factor to the persistently high numbers of migrants from Mexico was the creation of the Border Industrialization Program in 1965. The termination of the Bracero Program in 1964 had led to both a shortage of workers willing to work for lower wages in the United States, and a high population of displaced workers at the northern Mexico border. The result of this imbalance in the supply and demand of labor in the two countries in turn led the creation of this new agreement that allowed the construction of foreign-owned factories in northern Mexico. These factories are referred to as maquiladoras or maquilas, and provided both Mexico and the United States with a number of benefits. The factories provided Mexico with a way to increase its manufactured exports to the United States, and in return, the United States received tax benefits for placing its factories within Mexico; for example, the equipment imported into Mexico to be used in the factories was not subject to import taxes and the final product was only taxed on the value that was added at the factory, rather than the entirety of the item.[7]

The creation of the maquilas program provided jobs to the displaced Bracero Program workers and allowed the United States to continue to use labor from Mexico, which was less expensive than labor in the United States. The popularity of this program is evident in the incredible increase in the number of maquilas in operation: in 1967 there were 57 maquiladoras operating in Mexico; less than ten years later in 1976, that number had increased to 552.[8] The rise in the number of available jobs in the region led to an extreme swell in the population of the border towns. The maquiladora industry employed 4000 people in 1967, and by 1981 that amount grew to more than 130,000.[9] The maquilas drew the population north to the border in search of employment opportunities, but in many cases the northward pull did not stop there. The proximity of the United States with its markedly higher standard of living continued to pull the people who had migrated to border region even farther north, and led to higher numbers of migrants crossing the United States – Mexico border.

Amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act continued throughout the 1970s. In 1976 the United State Congress imposed a limit of 20,000 visas per country per year in the Western Hemisphere. At that time Mexico was exceeding that amount by approximately 40,000. In 1978 a new amendment was put in place that enacted a worldwide immigration policy, allowing 290,000 visas per year total, with no limitations per country.

The end of the Bracero Program combined with restrictions put on the number of visas allowed by the United States greatly increased the levels of illegal migration from Mexico.[10] As a response, in 1986 the United States enacted the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). Under this act, all undocumented migrants living in the United States as of January 1, 1982, as well as those who had labored in the seasonal agriculture work for at least ninety days during the previous years were granted legal citizenship. IRCA also made it possible to impose civil and criminal penalties on any employer who knowingly hired undocumented workers. Although a legalization of current undocumented workers, coupled with the increase in penalties suffered by employers who employed future undocumented workers was meant to decrease the total number of undocumented migrants in the United States, the actions did not produce the desired effect, as is evidenced by the number of apprehensions achieved through border patrolling.

See also


  1. ^ Bean, Frank D. et al (eds). At the Crossroads: Mexico and U.S. Immigration Policy. Lanham, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.: 1997.
  2. ^ Bean, Frank D. et al (eds). At the Crossroads: Mexico and U.S. Immigration Policy. Lanham, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.: 1997.
  3. ^ Lorey, David E. The U.S.-Mexican Border in the Twentieth Century. Wilmington, Scholarly Resources, Inc.: 1999.
  4. ^ Bean, Frank D. et al (eds). At the Crossroads: Mexico and U.S. Immigration Policy. Lanham, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.: 1997.
  5. ^ Public Broadcasting Services “The Border History”
  6. ^ Bean, Frank D. et al (eds). At the Crossroads: Mexico and U.S. Immigration Policy. Lanham, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.: 1997.
  7. ^ Morales, Gerard et al. “An Overview of the Maquiladora Program” United States Department of Labor. 1994
  8. ^ Seligson, Mitchell A. & Edward J. Williams. Maquiladoras and Migration: Workers in the Mexico – United States Border Industrialization Program. Austin, University of Texas Press: 1981.
  9. ^ Seligson, Mitchell A. & Edward J. Williams. Maquiladoras and Migration: Workers in the Mexico – United States Border Industrialization Program. Austin, University of Texas Press: 1981.
  10. ^ Bean, Frank D. et al (eds). At the Crossroads: Mexico and U.S. Immigration Policy. Lanham, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.: 1997.

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