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Mexican Immigration Essay, Research Paper

Mexican Immigration John CeleskAmerican Humanities Per. 2 There were four major time periods when the Mexicans immigrated to the U.S. They had settlements in southwestern United States, such as, California, New Mexico, and Texas. They settled in cities such as Laredo, San Jose, San Antonio, El Paso, Santa Fe, Tucson San Diego, and Los Angeles. Mexicans wanted to migrate to the U.S for such reasons as being with their families, better government policies, or deteriorating conditions at home. Often illegal immigrants were aided and abetted by American employers and by labor contractors, looking for unskilled laborers. Between 1880, and 1920 was a period which many Mexicans moved to the US. As opportunities slightly grew in the 1880 s and 1890 s, a small, but steady stream of temporary and permanent Mexican workers crossed the open border. Many began working for mine operators, railroads, and farms in the Southwest.The 1900 census counted about 300,000 people of Mexican ancestry, mostly in the border area. Only 103,000 were of Mexican birth, showing that much of the growth of the Mexican-American community was due to the natural increase of the 80,000 Mexicans in the United States in 1848. The United States had done little to restrict any immigration. Acts in the 1880s and 1890s and 1903 excluded such special classes as convicts and anarchists. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and later extensions had a narrow effect, as did the 1907 “Gentlemen’s Agreement” by which Japan agreed not to permit emigration. Bureau of Immigration personnel on the border was more concerned with stopping Europeans and Orientals from entering the United States than Mexicans. Then, during the years 1900-1920, Mexican movement to the United States quickened, with about 200,000 entering legally and more than that illegally. According to the census, the Mexican-born rose from the 103,000 in 1900 to 221,415 in 1910, and 486,408 in 1920. The Mexican influence increased also as the second-generation population grew, together with the daily and intermittent commuters in the Mexican border areas who worked in the United States and returned to Mexico at night or every few days. Larger immigration resulted partly from economic development in the Southwest. From 1900 to 1920 California orange output rose more than 400 percent. Southwestern lettuce, cotton, and other crops increased fabulously. Just clearing the brush and trees for new fields took much rough labor. Demand for labor was so high that employer’s and their agents went to border towns to hire immigrants and also sent notices into the interior of Mexico. More employers realized how nearly ideal Mexicans were for their needs. They were close by, worked hard, accepted low wages, and poor working conditions, and would take seasonal employment and move on when it terminated. The seasonal workers who left after planting and harvesting seasons relieved strains on the purse and conscience of Anglo employers. The low wages early in the twentieth century often meant about one dollar a day, usually less than that paid to any group for similar labor. But that was more pay than in Mexico and was often supplemented by the toil of wife and children as well. Furthermore, living costs were little more than in Mexico. Western mines, railroads, and construction projects also depended heavily on Mexicans, who supplied over 70 percent of western railroad labor between 1900 and 1920. The railroads sowed Mexican communities throughout the West and Midwest, as workers settled along the lines they built or maintained. Mexican-American communities expanded in Los Angeles, San Antonio, and other towns not far from the border; but they also were formed or enlarged in the far interior–in Kansas City, St. Louis, and Chicago, where slaughterhouse, iron mill, and factory operators found that Mexicans worked as well as European immigrants. Mexicans also emigrated because of worsening conditions at home. The last years of the long D az dictatorship saw a decline in the average person’s income. Then came the Revolution of 1910-1917, with northern Mexico a principal site of combat, suffering much destruction, dislocation, and flight before marauding bands and armies. At the same time the hold of great estate owners on their workers was reduced or ended. Although both Washington and Mexico City were willing to ensure the southwestern labor supply, problems arose during World War I. The 1917 Immigration and Nationality Law was America’s first general restrictive measure, requiring that immigrants be literate (in some language) and that they pay an eight-dollar head tax. It caused a slowdown of Mexican immigration, but the Labor Department found ways to ignore or weaken its provisions. Temporary workers were permitted–73,000 entered legally from Mexico between 1917 and 1923. Simultaneously, southwestern employers let immigration officials know that they preferred an open border policy to make less even the minor supervision of border crossings that was customary. As a result, inspections were not rigorous. The Mexican government consented to allow its citizens to emigrate; though it could not get assurances from Washington that Mexicans would be treated fairly. Mexico was driven to this policy by the great financial losses of the Revolution and by the fact that some income from Mexican labor in the United States made its way back to Mexico. In fact, the government even aided the movement; President Carranza (1917-1920) offered free rail transportation for emigrant workers. For different reasons, the Mexican and American governments approved written contracts between employers and braceros (strong arms) that obligated workers to make daily deposits in a U.S. Postal Savings Bank to a total of fifty dollars. Only when the bracero returned to Mexico, could he take principal and interest back with him-and it bought much more than it would today. Mexican immigration began to soar in the 1920 s. Almost 225,000 legal entrants to the United States were recorded during the 20 s and at least as many came illegally. Immigration officials, sympathetic to both immigrant and employer, did not enforce the law strictly. Another aid to immigration was completion of the railway from Guadalajara in west central Mexico to Nogales on the Arizona border. It funneled Mexicans into Arizona and especially into California. In the 1920s California rivaled Texas as a magnet for the Mexican-born, and no other state had more than a small fraction of the total. All this accelerated movement faltered when the Immigration Act of 1924 required a visa costing $10. But the barrier did not work because Mexicans would just resort to more illegal entry. The border position offered Mexicans an advantage not available to other immigrants. Responding partially to pressure, Congress in 1924 established a 450-man border patrol for both the Canadian and Mexican frontiers. Using all 450 men to patrol the two thousand miles of border from Brownsville to San Diego would still have been inadequate. But, of course, western employers and their congressmen wanted it to be inadequate. The agricultural business of western America had become gigantic, feeding an industrial and urban nation. Crops like lettuce and tomatoes took more labor than wheat, and the United States no longer was satisfied with bread, meat, and potatoes. Salad and citrus were now served at tables that previously had barley seen them at Christmas. Western farmers, contemplating this lovely market commanded cheap Mexican labor by enticement, inducement, advertising, political pressure, vagrancy laws, and recruitment offices. The workers came because miserable though wages, labor conditions, and living arrangements were, prospects looked worse in the slums of Los Angeles, the shacks of agricultural Texas, or throughout most of the Republic of Mexico. The result was that of the 200,000 farm laborers in California in the 1920s, some 75 percent were of Mexican ancestry, many Mexican-born. They moved up and down the state and into adjacent states, such as California, New Mexico, and Texas. They lived in burlap tents, canvas and waste-lumber lean-to’s, and brush and palm-leaf huts. Water often was insufficient and impure, while ditches and holes were used for garbage and human waste, and over everything hung clouds of files and the sour smells of malnutrition, dysentery, and despair.Most Americans didn t realize that total entries from Mexico to the United States between 1900 and 1930 were on the order of three-quarters of a million. The growing immigration, though, was small in relation to the total 18.63 million immigrants who entered the United States during the same period. Americans were not much aware of people of Mexican ancestry, even though more of them moved into the Midwest. Chicago had only 1,224 persons of Mexican ancestry in 1920, and even the great rise to 19,362 in 1930 left it a small minority in a big city. They came to Chicago in various ways, but always in response to opportunity. Some merely followed the seasonal work in sugar beet fields in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. Railway and steel companies recruited many in the border towns. As news of northern jobs increased in the border areas and as new arrivals from Mexico put pressure on the labor market of the frontier, more men began to work their way north, doing railway maintenance work, mining, or odd jobs. Mostly they came from Texas, and the Texans were trying to prevent the outflow of their cheap labor. Those leaving were mostly young men, and that caused social problems for the Mexican community in Chicago in the early days. At the same time as the early movement to Chicago, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were in other places joining the rush to the cities that changed so much in America. By 1930 possibly 20 percent of workers of Mexican ancestry were doing at least part-time industrial work.

The changes in the numbers, residence, and occupation of people of Mexican ancestry were not striking enough to catch much attention, because the immigration “problem” for Americans was restriction of the enormous flow from Europe. A law of 1921 first did that, as part of a quota system based on national origins. The system, adjusted in 1924 didn t fully apply until 1929, ended the ready supply of cheap European labor and the undesirable effects of cultural pluralism. The quota system of the 1920s remained basic U.S. law until 1952. Its bias in favor of immigration from western and northern, as opposed to southern and eastern, Europe sparked much of the emotionalism of the immigration debate. The European stream, at any rate, narrowed drastically after 1930, and everyone hailed it–happily or in sorrow–as the end of a historic process. The nations of the Western Hemisphere, however, were not included in the quota system, although there was support for that. Throughout the 1920s there were sporadic cries against immigration from Latin America, especially Mexico. The old ignorant claims about mixed blood and racial inferiority were aired. Even western supporters of Mexican immigration sometimes at least tacitly agreed but claimed that since Mexicans could easily be deported. They were the “safest” non-white group to let in, and they were cheap. The argument still went on in 1930 when a House bill called for Western Hemisphere quotas that discriminated against Mexico. Its sponsor spoke against the admission of “serf, slave, and peon types,” a complex social question one may be sure he knew little about. Also in 1930, the Census Bureau applied racism to Mexico. The bureau had listed Mexicans with whites, but now it created a special “Mexican” category that listed 1.42 million for that year. The guide for enumerators in 1930 included such scientific gems as the statement that “the racial mixture” of most Mexicans is “difficult to classify,” so that first- or second-generation Mexicans should be listed as “Mexican” if they were not “definitely white, Negro, Indian, Chinese, or Japanese.” The U.S. State Department in the 1920s also spoke against inclusion of the Western Hemisphere in the quota system, arguing that relations with Latin America were in a delicate state and would be damaged by inclusion in the quota scheme. The delicate state referred to, was largely the result of American armed interventions in Caribbean and Central American countries. The remedy for that scarcely lay along the border with Mexico, and presumably the connection asserted impressed few persons of intelligence. What did impress congressmen and others was the pressure by powerful economic groups to include the Western Hemisphere–meaning chiefly Mexico–in the quota system. Many jewels of reasoning have come down to the US on the indispensability of Mexican labor, especially in the Southwest, but none can have been more persuasive than the simple statement of the influential Congressman John Garner of Texas. In 1926 the conditions in that state did not permit profitable farming without Mexican laborers. The new legislation left the issue of Mexican movement across the border to U.S. consuls in Mexico, who could control the number of visas issued; to the thin ranks of U.S. immigration personnel at the border; and to whatever bilateral agreements the two countries might care to make. Either the first or the third devices could be frustrated if the border remained as porous as it always had been. Unexpectedly, that was declined in the 1930s but not because of restrictive legislation. The change came because the Great Depression dried up the need for labor, especially labor from Mexico. There were many Anglos out of work and willing to do anything because the economy was in agony, and men sold apples on street corners; and because drought and “dustbowls” in the Great Plains drove “Okies” from Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri to California. There were objections everywhere to giving jobs to aliens, even to Mexican-American citizens. In addition, public officials and taxpayers worried about the pressure of foreigners on public assistance agencies while the revenues of the latter were falling. Inevitably, such conditions stimulated the actions of natives and prejudice not only in the Southwest, but also in other parts of the United States. In the Southwest in the 1930s people of the Mexican community often were driven out of jobs. Visas were refused to new immigrants lest they become public charges. Then the movement went further, beginning in 1931, with deportation drives to locate and eject from the country “illegal” Mexicans. It became hysterical and vicious, making little effort at times to distinguish between illegals, on the one hand, and citizens and permanent resident aliens on the other. Trainloads of the repatriated carried some 13,000 from Los Angeles during the years 1931-1934. How many U.S. citizens were illegally deported or terrorized into leaving cannot be known, since the bureaucrats involved rarely bothered to count or classify the emigr s. Public officials boasted of the reduction of the Mexican population in the United States. Not surprisingly, few illegal migrants crossed the border in the 1930s and legal Mexican immigration fell to a mere 22,319 in the decade. It appeared that a combination of surveillance, abuse, deportation, and economic depression could sharply decrease the porousness of the long border. It was thought that under such conditions, the 1.5 million persons of Mexican ancestry in the United States at the end of the 1930s would possibly not be much augmented by new arrivals. The conditions, however, lasted only briefly. At the end of the 1930s the American economy revived as democratic governments abroad sent orders for arms and other wares, finally recognizing that militant fascism could not be appeased. Even Congress, early in 1938, agreed to more expenditure for defense. The beginning of World War II in 1939 raised demand of all sorts in the United States. It went higher in 1940 as the democracies battled to survive and the Roosevelt administration helped them. American rearmament continued, and Selective Service was adopted in September 1940. By the time of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, there was an economic boom in the United States, and many men and some women had left the labor force for the armed forces. Mexican immigrants became desirable again, so employers invited and welcomed them. They began pouring across the border, often illegally, and there was no machinery for stopping them, even if the will to do so had existed. Both governments, however, had some interest either in regulating the flow, or in showing their constituents that they wanted to do so. Mexico declined to agree to export of its citizens without guarantees that they could be protected from abuse. Increasing Mexican nationalism and past experience–deportations, prejudice, discrimination–made this a political issue in Mexico, which wanted, especially, to keep migrants out of Texas, where anti-Mexican views and acts had a virulent history. Although American employers welcomed illegal entrants, they wanted a more secure system, preferably unlimited Mexican immigration. In 1941 farmers contended that they needed legal regularized imports of Mexican workers for the next season or some crops would not be harvested. Railways and other employers also wanted Mexican workers. Since employers were unable to get unlimited immigration, a temporary system seemed better than nothing did. To get the agreement, Washington accepted the Mexican demand that the American federal government be the employer and handle all business and problems, including prevailing wages paid other workers and other protective measures. Mexico agreed to recruit workers and transport them to the border, where they were placed under the charge of the Farm Security Administration. The “temporary” measure went into effect in August 1942 and under one agreement or another lasted more than two decades. Since the measure was supposed to be temporary and much of the labor was supposed to return to Mexico between seasons, organized labor and people helping the natives made only minimal objections. In conclusion, Mexicans immigrated to the U.S. in four major time periods. Between 1880 and 1920, the 1920 s, the 1930 s, and during and after World War II. Often settling in the Southwest United States, Mexicans found themselves mostly in California, New Mexico, and Texas. Looking for better conditions in the U.S., families, and better government policies were all, and will continue to be, reasons for immigrating to the U.S. Mexicans were often aided by American workers looking for manual laborers, and found them in the border states and towns. Mexican immigration has thrived through futile attempts of deportation, and limitation, and will most likely continue to thrive.


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