I have been doing some research into the history of immigration originating from “south of the border”. The more I read, the more clarity I have in this unhealthy dance between the U.S. and Mexico. This article by the Harvard Magazine, succinctly points out, the historical migratory relationship throughout the last century, and the story does not seem to alter, no matter what decade. It goes something like this, America needs labor, cheap labor, we enlist help from our “south”, we get irritated with the “help” and send them home. Some time later, not a long period of time mind you, we realize that we need more cheap labor. We send out the “bat” signal, calling all cheap labor, and next thing you know, we have immigrant workers, legal and illegal. Clearly, many of the immigrant workers, legal and illegal who are hispanic are not all from Mexico, but I believe the premise of the article, this country needing an expanded unskilled work force, holds true for many of our southern neighboring countries.
This cycle has continued to this day. Isn’t it about time we figure out how to create some real workable and fair solutions to this ongoing dilema?
The first significant wave of Mexican workers coming into the United States began in the early years of the twentieth century, following the curtailment of Japanese immigration in 1907 and the consequent drying up of cheap Asian labor. The need for Mexican labor increased sharply when the Unites States entered World War I. The Mexican government agreed to export Mexican workers as contract laborers to enable American workers to fight overseas. After the war, an intensifying nativist climate led to restrictive quotas on immigration from Europe and to the creation of the U.S. Border Patrol, aimed at cutting back the flow of Mexicans. But economic demand for unskilled migrant workers continued throughout the Roaring Twenties, encouraging Mexican immigrants to cross the border—legally or not.
The Depression brought a temporary halt to the flow of Mexican labor. During the early 1930s, Mexican workers—including many legal residents—were rounded up and deported en masse by federal authorities in cooperation with state and local officials. Mexicans became the convenient scapegoats for widespread joblessness and budget shortages; as Douglas Massey, Jorge Durand, and Nolan J. Malone point out in Beyond Smoke and Mirrors (2002), Mexicans were accused, paradoxically, of both “taking away jobs from Americans” and “living off public relief.”
Although intended as a wartime arrangement, the Bracero program continued under pressure from U.S. growers, who feared a continued labor shortage in the booming postwar economy. Still, the numbers of legal braceros fell short of demand, and growers began regularly recruiting undocumented workers to tend their fields. By the end of the Korean War, illegal immigration had become a fixture of the U.S. agricultural economy—and public sentiment had again turned restrictionist. In 1954, the U.S. government responded with “Operation Wetback,” apprehending close to one million illegal workers. Meanwhile, to appease the growers, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) reprocessed many of these undocumented Mexicans and returned them to the fields as legal braceros.
The passage of the IRCA set the stage, many observers believe, for the enormous and entrenched problem of undocumented immigrants that exists today. While granting amnesty to 2.3 million Mexicans residing illegally in the United States, the law began a process of border fortification and militarization that has had the opposite of its intended effect. The idea of building a wall—which began under the Clinton administration—turned a pattern of circular migration into one of permanent settlement. “Now ‘Once I make it, I’m not going back,’” Domínguez explains. As Princeton sociologist Douglas Massey pointed out to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2005: “From 1965 to 1985, 85 percent of undocumented entries from Mexico were offset by departures and the net increase in the undocumented population was small. The build-up of enforcement resources at the border has not decreased the entry of migrants so much as discouraged their return home.”