2011 Markéta Stixová
Faculty of Education
Department of English Language and Literature
Illegal Mexican Immigration and the U.S. Response
Author: Markéta Stixová
Supervisor: Michael George, M.A
I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,
using only the sources listed in the bibliography.
In Moravský Krumlov 18th April 2011; Markéta Stixová
I would like to express my gratitude to my supervisor, Michael George, M.A, for his support
and time. I am grateful for his helpful advice, suggestions and valuable comments.
STIXOVÁ, Markéta. Illegal Mexican Immigration and the U.S. Response. Brno 2011.
pp. 63. Supervisor: Michael George, M.A.
Annotation – 4 sentences
The bachelor thesis deals with illegal Mexican immigration to and their integration in
the USA. The U.S. response and measures taken against both legal and illegal immigration
are discussed. After presenting the U.S. legal base concerning immigration, the case of
Mexicans is examined. Afterwards the integration of Mexican illegal immigrants is dealt
with; first, the U.S. strategies towards integration of illegal immigrants are discussed and then
Mexican case is looked into.
Illegal immigration, integration, the United States of America, Mexico
STIXOVÁ, Markéta. Illegal Mexican Immigration and the U.S. Response. Brno 2011.
pp. 63. Supervisor: Michael George, M.A.
Předkládaná bakalářská práce se zabývá ilegální imigrací Mexičanů do Spojených
států amerických a jejich následnou integrací. V první části se zaměřuje na to, jak je upravena
legální a nelegální imigrace do USA. Poté se práce zaměří na případ mexické imigrace.
V další části se práce bude zabývat kroky, které USA přijímá ohledně integrace nelegálních
imigrantů; následně bude opět diskutován případ mexické imigrace.
Nelegální imigrace, integrace, USA, Mexiko
1. Introduction ....................................................................................................................... 2
2. The U.S. history with Mexico ............................................................................................ 4
2.1. Situation between the US and Mexico before the War ........................................................... 4
2.2. Mexican-American War (1846 – 1848) .................................................................................... 6
3. The U.S. immigration policy ............................................................................................. 7
3.1. History of U.S. immigration ...................................................................................................... 7
3.2. The U.S. response to illegal immigration ............................................................................... 11
4. Mexican illegal immigration ........................................................................................... 17
4.1. Phases of Mexican immigration to the U.S. ........................................................................... 17
4.2. The rate between legal and illegal Mexican immigration ..................................................... 20
4.3. Mexican immigration – Why do they go there? .................................................................... 20
4.4. Profile of Mexican immigrant ................................................................................................. 22
4.5. Mexican government attitudes towards emigration ............................................................. 25
5. The U.S. integration policy ............................................................................................. 27
5.1. Models of integration ............................................................................................................... 27
5.2. Principles of the U.S. integration ............................................................................................ 30
5.3. Integration of illegal immigrants ............................................................................................ 33
6. Integration of the Mexican immigrants into the U.S. .................................................... 35
6.1. Chicano civil right movement ................................................................................................. 36
6.2. Problems faced by illegal Mexican immigrants..................................................................... 38
Employment and wages ............................................................................................................................... 38
Education ..................................................................................................................................................... 39
7. Conclusion ....................................................................................................................... 42
Reference List .......................................................................................................................... 44
In recent years immigration has become a real bogyman for developed countries. Especially
with the omnipresent threat of terrorism, states have become more sensitive towards the
people they let in. In most developed countries there is a strong trend to tighten immigration
rules and the USA is not an exception. The United States has always been seen as a nation of
immigrants where all that everyone who wanted to become an American had to do was come
to the USA and simply become an American. Mexican immigration history to the US is a
different story. It has played an important role ever since the two states became neighbours.
And there are several features that distinguish Mexican immigrants from other nationalities
coming to the USA.
Firstly, there is a historical fact that the states of Texas, New Mexico, California,
Arizona, Utah and Nevada and parts of Colorado and Wyoming used to be territories of
Mexico. This means that the Mexicans living in these regions before the Mexican-American
war suddenly became immigrants on their own land. This area taken from Mexico is also said
to be Mexican ancestral land, so called Atzlan.
Secondly, because the border between the USA and Mexico is long and the area is
sparsely populated, it has always been easy to cross it and get to the USA. Therefore there has
always been a large proportion of illegal Mexican immigration to the USA. It is necessary to
point out that for a long time the USA government did not take any steps to prevent illegal
immigrants from coming to the USA. According to Huntington1 the border between the U.S.
and Mexico is a unique example of a share border between a First and Third World country;
as such a frontier is not to be found anywhere in the world (Huntington 2004).
Thirdly, Mexican immigrants were needed as cheap labour. This is partly true even
today. But illegal immigration has been creating grave problems in the society which cannot
be overlooked anymore. Therefore the USA government has adopted several measures to
restrict or to eliminate illegal immigration. Some of these measures are considered
controversial and are even said to question human rights.
The thesis main focus is on illegal Mexican immigration to the USA and the response
and measures the U.S. has taken to deal with it. This is very important for understanding of
both mainstream American society and minority Mexican society in the USA because the
number of Mexicans both legal and illegal is increasing. Mexicans are already the biggest
Huntington is an American political scientist, probably most well-known for his book Clash of Civilization.
foreign born group in the U.S. and out of those most stay in the USA without proper
documentation (Bush et al., 37; Orrenius – Zavodny – Luken 2008, 1). To prevent hostile
relationships and even violence it is important to come to a mutual understanding because the
attitude towards Mexican immigrants is highly influenced by illegal immigration.
Accordingly, it is also necessary to comprehend reasons for their coming to the USA; there is
a need to look into the past to see how the migration evolved; insight into the USA both legal
and illegal immigration legislation is also essential to see how (illegal) immigration is dealt
with. All those aspects of illegal Mexican immigration are dealt with in the thesis.
2. The U.S. history with Mexico
Looking at the history of Mexico and the United States of America, one may assume that
those two countries have a lot in common. They both used to be colonies of great European
powers; they both fought for their independence and finally succeeded. But this is the end of
the similarities. Even though there were similar features of those two countries, the historical
development and their needs put those countries against each other in the conflict that has
evoked controversies since its very beginning, the Mexican-American War of 1846 – 1848.
The first part of the paper looks closer on the period preceding the war, the war itself and the
aftermath of the peace treaty.
2.1. Situation between the US and Mexico before the War
Mexican territory was subjected to colonization earlier than pristine territory of 13 British
colonies. Spain implemented its feudal system in newly occupied territory making Native
Americans slaves on their own land. On the other hand, Mexico was a younger and less stable
country than the USA. Mexico gained its independence on Spain in 1921 after eleven years of
fighting. It inherited a lot of problems of New Spain; feudal system, fragmented society,
sparsely inhabited territories in the North. In 1821 there were about 3,200 Mexicans living in
California, about 2,500 in Texas and about 40,000 in New Mexico (―The Borderlands on the
Eve of War―, n.d.). The country was also not sure what kind of government it should
embrace. Between 1821 and 1847 there were four types of government: monarchy, federal
republic and two forms of centralized republic (Valesco-Márquez, n.d. [a]). Due to these
problems Mexico was not able to provide, especially the remote regions like Texas, New
Mexico or California, with the proper support. Delivery of food or military backing was
complicated and logistically demanding, especially because of Indians who threatened the
locals (―The Borderlands on the Eve of War―, n.d.).
Whereas Mexico was fighting even after gaining the independence on Spain, the
United States was more or less stable and looking towards the West. The reasons for this were
miscellaneous. One reason, rather romantic one, was the idea of ‗Manifest Destiny‘. This term
is attributed to a journalist John L. O‘Sullivan but probably goes even further into the past. In
O‘Sullivan‘s explanation this term represented the mission of the United States to spread
―democracy, federalism, and personal freedom, as well as to accommodate their rapidly
growing population by ultimately taking possession of the entire North American
continent…" (May, n.d.).
Another factor was connected with the increasing number of immigrants coming to the
US, especially from Germany and Ireland (Haynes, n.d.). According to Haynes a particularly
important reason for going west and for annexing Texas was fear from Great Britain.
Especially Southerners were concerned about Great Britain abolishing slavery in West Indies
colonies in 1833. They were afraid that by annexing Texas, Great Britain could abolish
slavery in the whole North America and so they pushed the U.S. government to annex Texas
first. The election of James K. Polk with his pro-expansion attitudes in 1844 was decisive
point leading actually towards the war with Mexico (Haynes, n.d.).
Thus there is a rapidly expanding state with required means and stable government on
the one side and large feudal state with internal problems damaged by prolonged war for
independence on the other. Border disputes between the U.S. and Spain (New Spain) were
present since the time when the two countries became neighbours. The original border line of
the USA lay on Mississippi River. It was first moved in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase.
Even at that time the U.S. tried to gain a part of Texas but failed. A neutral zone was
established between the U.S. and then Spanish colony of New Spain for Spain naturally
feared ongoing U.S. expansion and wanted to put a stop to it. The U.S. annexation of Florida
in 1810 and Lewis and Clark's expedition to the Pacific only exacerbated Spanish anxiety
At that time the Mexican fight for independence started. While the boundary disputes
were not solved under the Spanish rule, it succeeded to newly established state of Mexico,
which had to put up with many internal problems but this time it did not have European great
power behind to back it. Thus it was very fragile. During 1820s the first U.S. immigrants
began to settle down in sparsely inhabited region of Texas. This was of grave concern in
Mexico because this was exactly how the takeover of Florida began when it was later
officially annexed by the U.S. government after insurrection of the U.S. settlers and their
proclamation of independence from Spain (Frazier, n.d.). Here is the most evident reason for
the war between Mexico and the USA. Texas declared its independence from Mexico in 1836.
Texas was not the only secessionist state in Mexico. In New Mexico and California there
were also American settlers. Moreover, many natives were dissatisfied with Mexican
government. There were supporters of either allying with Britain or with the U.S. (―The
Conquest of California―, n.d.).
Texas was recognized by the U.S., Great Britain, Belgium and France but not by
Mexico. From the very first moment Mexico feared Texas joining the Union (the USA). This
happened in 1845 as Texas joined the Union as its 28th state. Already in 1843 Mexican
government expressed itself that annexation of Texas would be seen as a declaration of war.
But even after the annexation was undertaken, Mexican government was reluctant to go to
war with much stronger neighbour and tried to negotiate. This reluctance was put to an end
when General Zachary Taylor crossed the Nueces River, which was considered the border
between Texas and Mexico by Mexican government.2 This led to the first encounters between
the U.S. and Mexican troops and eventually to the outbreak of the Mexican-American War
(Valesco-Márquez, n.d. [b]).
2.2. Mexican-American War (1846 – 1848)
The war started officially on April 25th 1846. The U.S. army advanced the Mexican territory
from several directions. The first one came from Texas under General Taylor. His army
maintained the Nueces Strip and proceeded deeper into the Mexico Territory. In 1846 Colonel
Stephen W. Kearney started his campaign to New Mexico with the so called ‗Army of West‘.3
He had orders to continue to California after the annexation of New Mexico, which he did
(―The Occupation of New Mexico―, n.d.). From the very beginning the technological
superiority and better organization of the U.S. army was clear. Mexican soldiers were mostly
untrained, badly equipped and with poor discipline, prone to desertion, stealing and mutiny
(―The Organization of the Mexican Army‖, n.d.). In some towns in New Mexico and
California the Americans did not even encounter any opposition. In all those towns, however,
uprising were later organized against American invaders but were always put down (―The
Conquest of California―, n.d.). The U.S. army gradually gained control over the Northern
Mexican territory and all the armies were heading to Mexico City, which was, according to
President Polk, essential for the victorious end of the war. Mexico City was captured on
September 14th 1847 (―Timeline Map―, n.d.). This was the beginning of the end of the war.
Even though Mexicans underwent several defeats and their casualties were much
higher than Americans, they still did not want to surrender. Neither authorities nor Mexican
people favoured surrender or negotiation. The general opinion among Mexicans was that they
were fighting for their national and cultural survival. According to them, justice was on their
According to secret Treaty of Valesco the boundary line between Mexico and Texas was really The Rio
Grande. Nevertheless, Mexico did never recognize this treaty. Therefore considered this a warlike act, whereas
for the U.S. it was protection of their own territory. For more information have a look at Descendants of
Mexican War Veterans. The History of the U.S.-Mexican War. Countdown to War. Retrieved from
Taylor‘s army was nicknamed ‗Army of Occupation‘; General Winfield Scott‘s army was ‗Army of Invasion‘
and so on. See Descendants of Mexican War Veterans. The History of the U.S.-Mexican War. The Northern
Campaign. Retrieved from http://www.dmwv.org/mexwar/history/texmex.htm.
side because Americans invaded their country and their occupation of it was against
international law (Valesco-Marquez, n.d. [c]).
The Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo signed on February 2nd 1848 ended the war
depriving Mexico of half of its original territory. Mexico recognized the U.S. sovereignty
over Texas with Rio Grande as a Southern border line, the cession of Upper California and
New Mexico. The USA paid $15 million to Mexico as compensation (―The Peace Treaty―,
n.d.). The final adjustment of the territory between Mexico and the U.S. was made in 1853
with the Gadsden Purchase (Finley et al., 2011). Around 500, 000 Mexicans stayed on the
new U.S. territory (Massey 1995, 645).
3. The U.S. immigration policy
The United States of America is said to be a nation of immigrants. This chapter examines how
the nation of immigrants has dealt with immigration, what immigration policy it has adopted
and how it has changed during the course of time. This is important because the complexity of
the immigration process may have profound influence on illegal immigration. The less
complicated the system, the easier to get visa or settlement permission or even citizenship. In
this case there would be less illegal crossing of the border. On the other hand, the more
complex and complicated system, the more people would try to evade it. In the next few
pages basic points in the U.S. immigration history and the main regulations are discussed.
3.1. History of U.S. immigration
The very beginning of the USA history started with the immigration. It was driven by both
materialistic and idealistic aims. Europeans were longing for the new lands and new life. At
that time the immigration to British colonies were predominantly of European origin. After
the thirteen American colonies gained the independence from the United Kingdom following
the War for Independence, there was a law enacted in 1790 stating that all free white man can
become citizens of the USA (―US Immigration History‖, n.d.). In the years immediately
following there was no law limiting or regulating immigrants coming to the USA. As it was a
big country with ambition to further growth, it needed people to settle the land. Therefore the
immigration was encouraged and there were no regulation laws (―U.S. Immigration and
Naturalization Service - Populating a Nation: A History of Immigration and Naturalization‖,
n.d.). The responsibility of accepting the immigrants rested with the local governments. Their
main task was to prevent criminals or people who could become public charge from entering
the USA. The states also levied so called head-tax. It was paid either by immigrants
themselves or by companies that took those immigrants to the ―New World‖. This evoked
several controversies because these taxes went to the receiving state, usually maritime one.
The money was used to finance several activities such as medical examinations, immigrants
hospital or employment referrals. The argument of opponents was that the incomers usually
headed to inland states that did not have the money to cope with the influx of incomers
(Skerry 1995, 74f).4
The first federal law concerning immigration was enacted only after the Civil War. It
was in 1875. This law prohibited admission of criminals and prostitutes to the USA. In 1876
the Supreme Court decided that regulation of immigration stayed exclusively with the federal
government. The head tax was made federal tax in 1882.5 Despite these changes the
responsibility for admitting immigrants rested with local government until 1891 when the
federal administrative was finally established (Skerry 1995, 75f). In that year the Office of the
Superintendent of Immigration was founded.6 Its responsibility was to admit, reject, and
process ―all immigrants seeking admission to the United States and for implementing national
immigration policy, …― (―Populating a Nation‖, n.d.). In 1892 the Ellis Island Immigration
Station was opened. It became the largest and the most frequented place of entry to the USA.
Borjas (1994), currently Robert W. Scrivner Professor of Economics and Social Policy
at Harvard University, calls this period starting in 1880s and lasting until 1924 the First Great
Migration.7 During this period 25.8 million people came to the U.S. (1668f). They were
mostly of European origin, especially people from British Isles, Germany and Scandinavians.
At the turn of 19th and 20th century the composition of immigration started to change with
people from Southern and Eastern Europe coming more and more to the U.S. (Daniels 1990,
121 – 284).
At the same time it was also the period when the first exclusion act was introduced. It
was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that introduced ten-year moratorium on Chinese
labour immigration. For non-labours it was still possible to enter but this process was
Today there are no such a taxes but the process is definitely not for free. You have to pay for the
This tax was in force until 1909. In that year it was replaced by annual appropriation. See CBP: U.S.
Immigration and Naturalization Service - Populating a Nation: A History of Immigration and Naturalization.
Retrieved from http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/about/history/legacy/ins_history.xml.
Later it was renamed Bureau of Immigration and in 1906 it was renamed again on Bureau of Immigration and
Naturalization when it gained new power over the naturalization process according to the Basic Naturalization
Act. See CBP: U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service - Populating a Nation: A History of Immigration
and Naturalization. Retrieved from http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/about/history/legacy/ins_history.xml.
Roger Daniels dates this first great period of immigration from 1820 to 1924 and he calls it century of
prolonged and complicated. It also instituted new requirements for those Chinese who had
already been present in the USA. They could not be granted U.S. citizenship and once they
left country they had to apply for certification to re-enter. This limitation was in force until
1924 when the new quotas were introduced (Chinese Exclusion Act 1882, n.d.).
The biggest immigration restriction was established in 1920s. In 1924 Quota law
restricted immigration on the national-origin bases (―Immigration Policy in the United
States‖, 2006, 1). According to Suro (1994), professor of Journalism and Public Policy at
University of Southern California, this National Origins Act was to limit immigration of
unwanted nationalities while at the same time to maintain immigration from traditional
wanted destinations such as Great Britain, Germany or Ireland. What happened was the
complete contrary. Suro states that this law actually helped to end European immigration (9f).
However, to say the European immigration ended all together would be a mistake. Rather
there was a new trend appearing, the growing immigration from other part of the world. In
1901 – 1930 the Europeans coming to the U.S. made up 79.6% of the whole immigrants. In
1931 – 1970 it decreased to 46.2% and in 1971 – 1993 it was only 13%. On the other hand,
there was completely different trend in other regions of origins; the percentage of immigrants
from Americas made up 16.2% in the first period mentioned above. In the second it was
already 43.6% (Massey 1995, 634). The law of 1924 thus rather marks a beginning of an
important shift in the immigration to the U.S. The national-origin quota system was valid until
1965. This law also introduced preference system that made entry easier for family members
of U.S. citizens already living in the USA. The number of people coming to the U.S. under
the preferential system was not included in the quotas. This will be important source of
immigration in the future.
So far there were several acts dealing with immigration but there were not unified and
located under single law. This happened only in 1952 when the Immigration and Nationality
Act (INA) was enacted putting together existing provisions (―Immigration and Nationality
Act‖, n.d.). The first change to this law came in 1965. The national-origin quota was repealed
and the ban on Asian entry was definitely abolished (Massey 1995, 638). According to Suro
(1994) this was the beginning of the new wave of migration (10). 8 There has been a rise in the
To present the different opinion on this issue there is an article by Douglas S. Massey. He states that scholar
generally overestimated the influence of both quota system and the amendments of 1965. He argues that these
amendments made the immigration more difficult thanks to common caps for Western hemisphere (before there
were separate caps for states of Western hemisphere). He says that the increase in immigration from Latin
America and the drop of immigrants from Europe appeared rather despite the regulations instead of thanks to
them. See Douglas S. Massey (1995). The New Immigration and Ethnicity in the United States.
annual number of immigrants, from 300,000 in 1960s to over a million in the 21st century
(Camarota 2002, 1 – 4).
Another important regulation was brought into power in 1986, the Immigration
Reform and Control Act (IRCA). These regulations dealt mostly with illegal regulation and
this will be discussed in the next sub-chapter that is devoted to illegal immigration and
response of the U.S. government to it. The basic features of the U.S. immigration policy were
left unchanged (Daniels 1990, 392). In 1993 there was another very important shift in the U.S.
immigration policy. A factor that had been present in the U.S. immigration policy for many
years gained a stronger position and has been gaining ever since. It is the control of the U.S.
borders. This will be discussed in the next sub-chapter.
The last important change in the U.S. immigration policy was brought about by
terrorist attacks of 9/11. The ease with which attackers got to the U.S. unnoticed was alarming
both for public and for government. In 2002 Homeland Security Act was accepted. It actually
abolished Immigration and Naturalization Service that was in charge of immigration policy
until that time.9 The Service and its agenda are under responsibility of newly created
Department of Homeland Security the main purpose of which is to protect the U.S. against
another terrorist attack (Tumlin 2004, 1177; Bush et al., 21). Thus immigration policy has
become part of the anti-terrorism fight. New practices have been introduced: demanding
detailed information about people coming to the U.S. (e.g. fingerprints), possibility of being
searched by an inspector even though the person does not show any suspicious behaviour,
special register has been created for those coming form ―al Qaeda supporting countries‖
(Bush et al., 22; Tumlin 2004, 1187). The system had been already quite complicated but the
new precautions have complicated the whole system even more and dramatically extended the
waiting time for visas for tourist, students and people employed in the USA. It is also very
expensive to get a visa, temporary permit or green card. The applicant can pay up to $3,000
and the company that is hiring high-skill worker can be charged up to $6,000 (Bush et al., 56
– 60). This again complicates the whole process. There have continuously been efforts to
reform to immigration policy. So far none of them has succeeded to get through Congress
(Bush et al., 46f). Currently, another reformation effort is in progress under Obama
Until 1940 it was under the U.S. Labour Department and since 1940 it was under the Justice Department. See
Deborah White: Illegal Immigration Explained - Profits & Poverty, Social Security & Starvation. Why the
Federal Government Can't End Illegal Immigration.
For more information see U.S. Immigration Reform, http://www.usaimmigrationreform.org/.
This sub-chapter briefly summarized the development of the U.S. immigration policy.
The next part of this chapter deals especially with the illegal immigration and steps that the
U.S. has taken to limit it.
3.2. The U.S. response to illegal immigration
There is certain ambiguity concerning the beginning of illegal immigration in the U.S. . Roger
Daniels, Charles Phelps Taft Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Cincinnati and
expert on immigration, states that first illegal immigrants were slaves after the prohibiting
slave trade in 1808 (Daniels 1990, 63). Another point of view suggests that Mexicans coming
to the U.S. in search of work during the whole nineteen century may be considered first illegal
immigrants. According to Claire Lui it was Chinese Exclusion Act that marked the ―birth of
illegal immigration‖ (Lui 2007). Whether the first illegal immigrants to the U.S. were
Chinese, Mexicans or slave, the fact remains that the phenomenon of illegal immigration was
not a priority of the government for very long time because it was not seen as a problem
(Briggs 1986, 1001; Suro 1994, 13). There is a pattern to be found in almost all groups of
immigrants. As long as they are needed (e.g. because of labour shortage), they are welcomed
in spite of being illegal immigrants.11 When problems such as unemployment among citizens
or economic crises appear the government is quick to reassess its liberal attitude towards
immigration, especially towards illegal immigrants. There is also the same pattern in
development of both legal and illegal immigration policy. In the course of time and especially
in 1990s and at the beginning of 21st century there is tendency to tighten up the regulation for
both of these policies. It is a paradox that restricted legal immigration always more or less
triggered illegal immigration and has always led to its increase, whereas precaution taken
against illegal immigration have done little to limit it (Mendoza, 2008, 208). In the history of
the U.S. there have been several examples of it. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of
1986 (IRCA) was supposed to cut down the illegal immigration by legalizing illegal
immigrants already in the USA and imposing sanctions on employers. In 1990s, after the
implementation of IRCA, the U.S. experienced the largest illegal immigration flow in the
whole history of the USA. The introduction of harsh control measures at the U.S.-Mexican
borders also did not have the intended effect. According to Cornelius and Salehyan12 research
the would-be immigrants know all the dangers of illegally crossing the border but plan to do it
Sometimes the illegal immigrants are even more welcome because they are cheap labour force.
Cornelius is a Professor of Political Science at University of California. Salehyan is an Assistant Professor of
Political Science at University of North Texas.
anyway for the incentives are still very strong and thus the crossing is worth the risk. It could
be assumed that the attempts to stop illegal immigration are improperly targeted and not
aimed at the true cause of the illegal flow (Cornelius – Salehyan, 2007).
For a very long time the U.S. did not even have an illegal immigration policy because
neither the government nor the public felt immigration as a problem worth it. Furthermore,
the illegal immigration was very desirable for farmers in the USA. During Bracero
programme many workers either came back as illegal immigrants (for those who had already
been in the U.S. under Bracero programme were not given preference the second time they
wanted to go) or they came as illegal from the very beginning, this was caused especially by
irregular recruitment of new Braceros and also by the claim for bribe to secure the selection
(Wilson 2000, 197). Together with the legal flow, there was considerable flow of illegal
immigrants as well. Those, however, went back after the work was done.
Not counting the immigration quotas, the very first efforts to create regulations
addressing the illegal immigration came only in the mid 1970s. After several unsuccessful
attempts to reform the immigration policy during the first half of 1980s (Briggs 1986, 1001 –
1011), Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) was finally passed by both Senate and
the House of Representatives in 1986.13 Being the first law dealing with the illegal
immigration, IRCA represents a decisive point in the U.S. illegal immigration policy. There
are four main points in IRCA. First it is the amnesty for illegal immigrants; requirements for
employers to verify the eligibility of new employees; sanctions for those who knowingly
employed undocumented immigrant; and the provision that make importing foreign
agriculture workers easier. The last provision was there to secure votes of congressmen from
the interested area, such as California and Texas14 (Daniels 1990, 392). Out of those the most
essential are the amnesty and the sanctions against employers who knowingly hire
undocumented immigrants. Those had been widely discussed in previous years and
particularly sanctions for employers were highly controversial.
As amnesty it is usually understood a pardon for a punishment. Here amnesty means
the pardon for illegal immigrants. The status of legal permanent residents was given to them.
There were two amnesty programmes. The first one gave the opportunity to legalize their
status to the undocumented immigrants that could prove they had been living in the U.S. since
The previous draft bill backfired either on passing through the Senate or the House of Representatives. See
Vernon M. Briggs, Jr. The "Albatross" of Immigration Reform: Temporary Worker Policy in the United States.
Here the issue was highly controversial because these states are heavily dependent on migrant worker labour.
During the previous attempt to reform the immigration regulations caused the failure of the effort.
January 1st 1982 and also could pass Civic and English tests (Gonzalez Baker 1997, 8). The
second programme was aimed at seasonal workers. Those who had worked in certain
agriculture area for at least 90 days could apply for temporary residency (―Immigration Policy
in the United States,‖ 2006, 2; Briggs 1986, 1012). There were about 3 million undocumented
immigrants taking part in amnesty and bocoming legal residents. This made about 60% of
total illegal population (Suro 1994, 13; Daniels 1990, 393; Gonzalez Baker 1997, 5).
However, not all illegal immigrants on the territory of the U.S. were eligible for amnesty and
thus it was not uncommon that there were families with only one person having legal status
(Daniels 1990, 393f; Gonzales Baker 1997, 17).
Sanctions against employers were also controversial and had been a topic of debate
and arguments for the whole 1980s. It could be thus considered huge success when it was
included in the new law. However, the sanctions, among which there is also prison sentence,
have hardly ever been used. Suro (1994) calls it ―prohibition with no teeth‖ (13). Government
has its laws and means how to enforce it, it is simple not happening. There may be various
reasons for this. Mostly it is assumed that it was simply convenient for the employers and
companies that employed undocumented immigrants for very low wages (Head, n.d.). Overall
the IRCA was not considered very successful. It caused only temporal decrease of illegal
immigrants in the U.S. and it did not end the flow of illegal immigrants to the U.S. (Daniels
1990, 397; Suro 1994, 13, 14; Massey 1995, 2).
The liberal attitude of government and the public started to change profoundly in
1990s. There definitely has to be a distinction between states that are direct receivers of
(illegal) immigrants and those states that are not (these state and their citizens are expected to
be more liberal with immigration). The Proposition 187 was enacted in California in 1994.
This proposition forbade access of illegal immigrants to practically all public services,
including schools and higher education. This proposition was almost immediately blocked by
federal court. Similar laws that tried to push out illegal immigrants occurred also in the years
to come, e.g. in Arizona in 2010 (Schrag 2010). Some of the most controversial parts of the
law were block by federal judge later the same year (Riccardi – Gorman, July 28, 2010).
In 1996 another law concerning illegal immigration was passed, Illegal Immigration
Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). This law focuses on border enforcement
and introduced reduced access of illegal immigrants to government benefits. Border
enforcement was improved by increased number of border patrol agents, additional layers of
fencing, tougher penalties for smugglers and illegal immigrants (―Immigration Policy in the
United States,‖ 2006, 2; Massey 2005, 3). Border patrol is a phenomenon of 20th century.15 It
was established in 1924 but until 1990s it was rather marginal tool for dealing with illegal
immigrants. It has started to gain importance since the adoption of Immigration Reform and
Control Act of 1986. But its real boom can be dated from 1993 when Bill Clinton‘s
administration decided to take this problem really seriously. Border enforcement has been the
chief principal of the U.S. policy ―prevention through deterrence‖, which aim is to make the
entry to the U.S. so dangerous that it will discourage potential illegal immigrants from
crossing the borders (Cornelius 2001, 661).
The first step was Operation Blockade (Hold the Line) in El Paso that took place in
1993 and showed how grave the situation around illegal immigration was and how successful
such an action could be (Nuñez-Neto, 2008, 3). It was followed by Operation Gatekeeper in
San Diego and California. Since that time there has been a sharp increase in the budget for
Border Patrol. In 2002 its budget was around $1.6 billion (Massey 2005, 3). Also the number
of Border Patrol staff has been steadily rising. In 1993 there were less than 4,000 agents. In
2008 it was already 20,000 (Bush et al., 42). These precautions are not the only changes that
have been introduced on border with Mexico.16 After the Hold the Line Operation, the fence
started to be build to prevent vehicles from easily crossing the border and to make the
demarcation line between the U.S. and Mexico clear (―Background to the Office of the
Inspector General Investigation,― n.d.). As of 2009 the fence was said to be almost finished
(―U.S.-Mexico border fence almost complete,‖ Jan. 27th, 2009).
Together with the fence there are stadium-type lightning, motion detecting sensors,
remote video surveillance system with in-ground sensors that activate a video camera. The
system with biometric data of immigrants, so called IDENT, was started. It stores the photos,
fingerprints and other biometric date of apprehended illegal immigrant. Thus he or she can be
easily detected at repeat entry (Cornelius, 2001, 663). Nowadays the whole system of ―smart
technology‖ is under one programme, SBInet.
Although the U.S. has much longer border with Canada, 4,000 miles, border patrols do not patrol this border.
See CRS Report for Congress. Border Security: the Role of the U.S. Border Patrol 2006. 2. Retrieved from
There are no such precautions on the U.S. – Canada border. Prior 9/11 2001 the border was more or less un-
protected. Only after 9/11 the measures preventing terrorist from coming to and fro the U.S. and Canada have
been introduced. These are based mostly on the cooperation and sharing information between the two countries.
See CRS Report for Congress, Border Security: the Role of the U.S. Border Patrol 2006. Retrieved from
Being apprehended17 and proven to be an illegal immigrant, the alien could be
removed from the U.S. thorough either formal removal or voluntary departure. Under formal
removal, an illegal immigrant goes in front of the immigration judge who decides whether the
immigrant will be deported or let stay in the USA . There could be also penalties associated
with the formal removal, e.g. fine or imprisonment. Under certain circumstances the illegal
immigrant may be also prohibited to enter the U.S. again in the future. Voluntary departure is
an alternative for non-criminal illegal immigrants. They have to admit that they crossed
borders illegally and they departure is witnessed but they are free to come back to U.S.
through the legal process (―Immigration Policy in the United States,‖ 2006).
According to several studies the enhanced border control strategy does not work
properly. Even though it does increase the danger during the entering the U.S., it does not
deter the people from trying it. It results in choosing more remoted places in mountains and
deserts for crossing. Those are nevertheless more dangerous and more difficult to cross and
the death rate at crossing is increasing. From 1995 to 2006 there were 4,045 people reported
to die during illegal border crossing. These are the known cases but the number could be even
higher. The most often cause of death was dehydration and hypothermia (Cornelius –
Salehyan 2007, 142). There was even international condemnation of ―Operation Gatekeeper‖
from the UN or human rights organization such as Amnesty International (―Operation
There are also other unintended consequences that go with border enforcement, the
rise of permanent settlement among undocumented immigrants and the rise of fee for so
called coyotes, guides who are paid by the immigrants to get them to the U.S. across borders.
The fee differs in various areas but in mid-1990s it was about $200. By 2001 it raised up to
$1,500 in some places and according to some reports it reached up to $2,000 or even 6,000 in
2009 (Cornelius 2001, 668; Bush et al., 42; Massey 2005, 8). Given the difficulties that the
person has to overcome plus all the investment that need to be done to even have a chance to
cross the borders, it is not surprising that the permanent settlement is the choice of more and
more illegal immigrants.
By apprehension it is meant the arrest of a person who is violating the U.S. immigration law. The most
apprehensions, around 97%, are made by Border Patrol on the southwest border with Mexico. See Immigration
Policy in the United States 2006. Retrieved from http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/70xx/doc7051/02-28-
The expenses have been growing also for the U.S. government. The price for
apprehension has been rising as well recently. In 1986 it was approximately $100 per arrest.
In 2002 it was already $1,700 (Massey, 2005, 7).
Together with the border enforcement deportation is yet another U.S. response to
illegal immigration. The first deportation took place in 1954 as the ―Operation Wetback‖. It
began on July 15 and lasted until the autumn of that year. It is roughly estimated that around
1,300,000 illegal immigrants were forced to leave the country. There are also claims that
around 500,000 or 600,000 had fled before the operation started. To secure that those
immigrants would not come back, they were taken by buses, trains and ships into interior
parts of Mexico (Koestler, 2011).
During George Bush, Jr. administration a new strategy called the Secure Communities
was introduced, later accelerated under Obama administration. The goal is to identify and
remove criminal illegal immigrants. Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and
Custom Enforcement and Department of Justice cooperate on this project. When somebody is
arrested their fingerprints are checked against Homeland Security records and when an illegal
immigrant is identified, Immigration and Custom Enforcement decide whether the removal is
appropriate. It depends on the previous criminal record of the person, their immigration status,
severity of the crime and so on (―Secure Communities,‖ n.d.). There have been certain
indications that not only criminals are removed. In some areas the number of removed non-
criminals is said to highly outnumber that of criminals. It is e.g. Prince George County,
Maryland where out of 86 undocumented immigrants two-thirds were not criminals
(Vedantam, Dec. 20, 2010).
Another draft bill that deals with illegal immigrants already living in the U.S. is called
the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act or DREAM Act and is aimed at
the young illegal immigrants and gives them opportunity to gain the U.S. citizenship. The
whole process would take six years and would include college completion and two-year
military service (DREAM Act Portal). The DREAM Act passed the House of Representatives
in December 2010 but failed to go through the Senate in February 2011 (Preston, Feb. 8,
4. Mexican illegal immigration
Mexican immigration to the U.S. and especially illegal immigration has always been a very
sensitive issue in the U.S. society. There are those who have been profiting from cheap labour
and gradually have become dependent on it; on the other hand, there are groups that see
Mexicans as those stealing their jobs and as those preventing the improvement of working
conditions. This battle of ideas can be seen both in public and in Congress; some congressmen
defend human rights, some defend interests of farmers or other employers that are reliant on
cheap Mexican work. Ever since the U.S. government focused on Mexican illegal
immigration the effort has been made to deal with it. There have been deportations, there have
been quotas, there has been amnesty, and there have been apprehensions on the borders. All
the U.S. government responses to illegal immigration have been applied to undocumented
Mexican immigrants as most illegal immigrants are from Mexico. As of 2000 the Mexicans
made up 69% of all undocumented immigrants in the U.S. (Garcia, 2005, 4). Mexicans are the
largest immigration group in the USA. In 2005 there were around 11 million Mexican
immigrants in the U.S.; this counts for 30% of total foreign born U.S. population; about 56%
of them were without documents (Bush et al., 37; Orrenius – Zavodny – Luken, 2008, 1).
Thus it is not surprising that issue of immigration has been of utmost importance in the U.S. –
4.1. Phases of Mexican immigration to the U.S.
The immigration issue between Mexico and the U.S. is a rather complicated one and it goes
back to the very beginning of the history of the USA. First Mexican immigrants were not
immigrants at all. They just happened to live on the territory that was annexed by the U.S.
after the Mexican-American war. By the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo those people were
offered two possibilities: either to stay or go to Mexico. To those who decided to stay the
Treaty guaranteed the right to keep their property, which was of high importance for them.
Nevertheless, this right was not adhered to and gradually they were deprived of their land.
(Daniels, 1990, 307f) This actually marks the beginning of the oppression of Mexicans living
in the USA.
After 1848 immigration from Mexico were not very significant. Mexican workers
were used in huge numbers on railway construction and also on farms picking cotton. They
came and went. Already at that time they were underpaid. They were given a dollar a day,
which was far below the average wage (Servin, 36f). Anyway, according to Suro (1994), by
1910 migrant channels were established between Mexico and the U.S. (especially in
California) (48). Although, the migration at that time was not so large, still it was enough to
create channels that would be used in the future.
In 1910 something happened that triggered first massive immigration from Mexico to
the USA. It was the Mexican revolution. Together with a rapid economic development in
California the Mexican revolution created strong push and pull factors18 and led to huge flow
of immigrants from Mexico (Suro, 1994, 48). In 1920s the Mexican population made up 11%
of total legal population. Around 100,000 illegal immigrants were crossing border annually
(Vernez – Ronfeldt, 1991, 1). Between 1910 and 1929 there were around 700,000 Mexicans
staying in the U.S. (Rivera-Batiz, 2007, 1401).
There was a short break in caused by the Great Depression. The immigration from
Mexico was limited during 1930s. There were also deportations of workers back to Mexico.
Since the beginning of the Depression in 1929 until 1937 there were almost 500,000 Mexican
taken back to Mexico (Durand – Massey – Zenteno, 2007, 109f).
The flow of legal Mexican immigrants was renewed in 1942 when Mexican and the
U.S. government agreed on Bracero programme that was supposed to help the U.S. to
overcome manpower shortage in agriculture caused by the U.S. engagement in World War II.
Although the programme was aimed at Second World War manpower shortage, it did not end
with the end of the war. It continued until 1964. (Vernez – Ronfeldt, 1991, 1; Bracero History
So far only the legal immigration has been mentioned. However, illegal immigration
has always been present and has always been complementing the legal flow. By 1970 the
annual number of illegal immigrants coming to the U.S. was about 23,000. This number is,
however, estimated to have risen to around 100,000 by 1980. When the problem of illegal
immigration seemed to be ‗getting out of control‘, the U.S. government did not hesitate to
approach to deportations. (Vernez – Ronfeldt, 1991, 1, 2)
After the end of Bracero programme the U.S. repeatedly tried to curb immigration
from Mexico. Several amendments to Immigration and Nationality Act were introduced in
1965, 1976, 1978 and 1980 with the aim to restrict the legal immigration from Mexico. In
1960 the ceiling for the immigration from the Western Hemisphere was set to 120,000
Push factors are unfavourable conditions in the country of origin, such as poverty, oppression, lack of job
opportunities, etc. that play an important part in migrant‘s decision to leave the country. Pull factors, on the other
hand, are those conditions that attract people to go to foreign country. See National Geographic Society, ―Human
Migration Guide.‖ Retrieved from
persons. In 1976 the ceiling for each state both from Western and Eastern Hemisphere was set
to 20,000 (Katz – Stern – Fader, 2007, 166; Skinner, 2006, 2). Despite these steps legal
immigration was still raising and illegal immigration was growing even more rapidly (Durand
– Massey – Parrado, 1999, 519). There were again several push and pull factors that played
Firstly, industrialization of Sunbelt area19 attracted a lot of Mexican workers.
Secondly, Mexico was heading to a debt crises, which finally came in 1982 with the collapse
of oil prices (Suro, 1994, 49). Probably due to the immigration restrictions and the grave
economic situation in Mexico the immigrants coming to the U.S. were mostly without
documents. They accounted for 55% of the whole Mexican immigration (Jones, 1995, 715;
Katz – Stern – Fader, 2007, 166).
During 1970s and 1980s illegal immigration was a subject to serious discussion in
public and in Congress as well. The law that would introduce steps to limit illegal
immigration always failed (Briggs, 1986, 1001 – 1011). The change came in 1986 when the
Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) was introduced. As mentioned earlier a part of
IRCA package was also amnesty for undocumented persons that had been living in the U.S.
since 1982. Mexicans were the largest group in this amnesty programme; around 2,300,000
Mexicans applied for legalization (Edwards 2006). IRCA also marks the beginning of so
called ‗militarization‘ of borders. In the first year after IRCA coming into there was
considerable decline of illegal immigrants trying to get to the U.S.; it is estimated that in after
introducing IRCA the number annual entries fell down from 115,000 to 61,000 (Jones, 1995,
717). Nevertheless, this trend did not last long. During 1990s the U.S. experienced one of the
largest immigration flows coming from Mexico in the whole history of the USA. According
to Gordon H. Hanson from the National Bureau of Economic Research it was comparable
only to the immigration flows from Ireland and Germany in the 19th century (1).
At the beginning of the 1990s the number of immigrants coming to the U.S. every year
made up about 1 million. Mexican immigration made about a third of total immigration
population. The rise of immigrants is once again connected with the economic situation; in
mid 1990s Mexico experienced a drop of 6.2% of country GDP. The flow of immigrants
continued to rise during the whole nineties reaching its peak in 1999 when there was 1.8
Sunbelt area is a belt covering the whole South of the U.S.; it stretches from California to Florida. In 1970s the
place was famous for a rapid growth and technological development. Being a place with abundant job
opportunities, it attracted a lot of immigrants. See Briney, A. Sunbelt. Retrieved from
million estimated immigrants that entered the U.S. that year. Out of these immigrants most
were without documents (Passel – Suro, 2005, 1-4, 11).
4.2. The rate between legal and illegal Mexican immigration
According to illegal nature of undocumented immigration, it is impossible to state the exact
number of those immigrants. It can be only estimated from the foreign population living in the
USA. What can be said with certainty is that illegal immigration has been always present
together with the legal immigration. The massive illegal immigration is, however,
phenomenon only of the very end of the 20th century. Both legal and illegal immigration have
been rising since the beginning of 1990s. While the illegal immigration has been growing
steeply, legal immigration has rather lagged behind. By 2004 there were more undocumented
immigrants entering the U.S. than legal ones (Passel – Suro, 2005, 4f).
Mexico is the biggest ‗source‘ of both legal and illegal immigration. In the U.S. there
are about 33,5 million foreign born. Out of these foreign-born people Mexicans count for
approximately 11 million. According to the Homeland Security Statistics for 2011, there were
6,6 million illegal Mexican immigrants present in the U.S. in 2010, which makes 62% of total
immigrants without documents. This makes them biggest unauthorized group in the U.S.
(Larsen, 2003; Orrenius – Zavodny – Luken, 2008, 1; Hoefer – Rytina – Baker, 2010, 4). It is
also important to mention that many immigrants actually apply for a green card but they
prefer to wait for it in the U.S. as illegal immigrants rather than back home in Mexico
(Hanson, 2006, 8).
4.3. Mexican immigration – Why do they go there?
Seemingly trivial question in the title of this sub-chapter is crucial for understanding of the
whole essence of the immigration problem between the U.S. and Mexico. This chapter
summarizes the main reasons that are mentioned as influential at decision-making. The
reasons that lead people to decision to immigrate have been examined by social scientists for
years. There are several theories that can be used to explain people‘s decision to immigrate.
Only the most important ones are mentioned here. All the theories mentioned are applicable
to the Mexican immigration to the USA.
Firstly, it is neoclassical economic theory. According to this theory the migrant is
driven by economic factors, such as job opportunity, better wage, simply he/she is looking for
the betterment of their well-being (Garcia, 2005, 5; Borjas, 1989, 460f). Another theory, the
new economics of migration, suggests that it is rather group and not the individual who does
the decision to migrate. Like the labour is distributed to several group (mostly family)
members, then the risk is minimized and profit maximized. Dual labour market theory says
that the migration is driven by the needs of modern industrial society that are eager to get
cheap manpower from abroad. Last theories to be mentioned are social capital theory and
cumulative causation. Those two theories state that the migration is more probable when the
would-be migrant has connection to somebody in the target country that already has a
migration experience, so called migration network (Garcia, 2005, 5).
Among most often mentioned reasons for coming to the U.S. is job-hunting and wage
driven motives that can be quite clearly classed within economic domain. Poor labour market
situation in Mexico force Mexicans to look for job somewhere else. And as the U.S. is
relatively easy to get to, their choice is rather easy as well. As far as wages are concerned, the
pattern is very similar to the job-opportunity one. In 2000 the average hour pay in Mexico
was $1.80; whereas in the U.S. this pay is 4-6 times higher even though the worker is
unskilled and without documents (Cornelius – Salehyan, 2007, 140f). This is already quite a
strong argument for immigration. Even though the price the illegal immigrants have to pay to
‗coyotes‘ has been growing steeply during 1990s, still it is worth paying. According to
George H. Hanson it takes about 7.8 forty-hour work weeks to pay off the fee to ‗coyote‘
(20). Hanson counts with the fee of $2,000, which is an average cost. There are region where
a coyote can demand even more, but there are also region where the price is lower (Cornelius,
2001, 668; Bush et al., 42; Massey, 2005, 8). The money sent back to Mexico by illegal
immigrants play also important role. It is said that due to the growth of illegal immigration to
the U.S., the remittances sent by them back to their families in Mexico rose from 0.1% of
GDP in 1990 to 2.2% of Mexican GDP in 2004 (Hanson, 2006, 3).
Other incentives for migration are connected with the group. In discussion paper of
Bauer, Epstein and Gang20 there are distinguished two different types of migration behaviour
connected with groups. It is a herd behaviour and migration networks. Both deal with
migrants clustering but each gives its own explanation of the phenomenon. Herd behaviour
means that migrant follows the flow of other migrants. The would-be immigrants do not
decide according to their own information but rather assume that the previous migrants had
better information than they do and therefore they will follow them. This also means that the
would-be immigrants do not necessarily have to go to the place with the best job
Thomas Bauer is a Senior Research Associate in Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) and works also for
Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR). Gil Epstein works also for CEPR and also Bar Ilan University.
Ira N. Gang works at Rutgers University and IZA.
opportunities, better living conditions. In network behaviour migrant rather follows the stock
of the immigrants. This means that the immigrants go where there are ‗their people‘ because
they will provide the accommodation, help to find the job, etc. In network behaviour,
migrants rely on their own information rather than assuming that somebody else has better
information. According to Bauer, Epstein and Gang, Mexican immigrants are influenced by
both of these behaviours (2ff, 20f). The Mexican migrant network in the U.S. has been
forming since the end of the Mexican-American War. However, it has begun to be imbedded
in 1960s with the Bracero programme. After the termination of the programme the networks
went on enabling illegal immigrants to come to the U.S. (Suro, 1994, 48f). According to
Orrenius, Zavodny and Luken21 the importance of migrant networks in the U.S. is even more
crucial than it used to be due to the stepped up security measure at the borders. Because the
network of family members could not only provide accommodation but also money to be paid
to smuggler to get their relatives to the U.S. (Orrenius – Zavodny – Luken, 2008, 6f).
The last thing that plays an important role in decision-making of migrants is the fact
that the U.S. is a neighbouring country and thus it is fairly easy to get there. Since 1990s the
‗prevention through deterrence‘ has been put into practice. But according to several studies
neither fence-building nor the strengthening of the Border Patrol prevent migrants from
crossing the border illegally. According to Cornelius and Salehyan (2007), would-be migrants
are familiar with the danger but still plan to go to the U.S. (139 – 153). This money, earned in
the U.S., has also helped several times to over come serious crisis in certain empowered
regions in Mexico. Having relatives in the U.S., they could minimize the impact of the crisis
(Durand – Massey – Parrado, 1999, 520).
The decision to entre the U.S. illegally has been very much influenced by the difficult
and protracted process of gaining legal documents. The proof can be the situation in which the
flow of undocumented immigrants surpassed the legal flow (Mendoza, 2008, 211, 217).
4.4. Profile of Mexican immigrant
Generally it is assumed that ordinary Mexican immigrant is a young male, probably married
(although some sources stated rather single marital status; Vernez – Ronfeldt, 1991, 2) with a
wage below an average; he is very probably without documentations and without knowledge
of English (Jones, 1995, 718). His destination is probably California, Arizona, New Mexico
Pia M. Orrenius works at Federal Reserve Bank in Texas and IZA. Madeline Zavodny works at Agnes Scott
College and IZA. Leslie Luken is from University of Texas at Austin.
There have been several studies trying to deal with this stereotype. In the studies
reviewed for this chapter22 there was an agreement on the fact that until 1986 (year of IRCA)
there was relatively stable profile of Mexican illegal migrants. They were usually temporary
workers, mostly males, with a low level of education, both skilled and unskilled (however,
mostly unskilled) working in agriculture. This migration was rather circular, illegal
immigrants did not stay long and did not settle. The purpose of their ‗visit‘ was to earn money
and go back to Mexico where there was their family. Usually a migrant made several trips
during his lifetime. The trip usually lasted for about a year. It is said that IRCA of 1986 and
later precautions after 9/11 have led to more permanent settlement among illegal immigrants
for the risk of being apprehended is higher and so is the cost of crossing (Mendoza, 2008,
209f). On the other hand, Durand, Massey and Zenteno (2001) claim that due to the amnesty
of 1986 and legalization of a huge number of illegal immigrants the trend of circulation has
been braced up (122). This is true only for legalized immigrants that could now visit their
family more often and for longer time. This is quite paradoxical findings that legalization
promoted permanent settlement of illegal immigrants rather than of legal ones.
As far as gender is concerned, there is no such an agreement among scholars. While
Durand, Massey and Zenteno (2001) state that the immigration is still largely selective of
males. Women make up about 20% of the total immigration flow (114, 120). Cornelius and
Marcelli have, nevertheless, different opinion claiming that in certain areas (e.g. Los Angeles
County) female migration has even outnumbered males. Female migration is deeply
connected with the migration network of friends and family already in the U.S.; they
encourage them to immigrate. Women also migrate to reunite with their husbands (Durand –
Massey – Zenteno, 2001, 110f). Both women and men remain in blue collar occupation (Katz
– Stern – Fader, 2007, 169f). There was shift from agriculture that was the largest source of
occupations. In 1990s the number of people working in agriculture decreased by 6 – 8%.
Nowadays, the men usually work in construction and women in retail trade (Hanson, 2006,
It is claimed that the educational level of new incoming Mexicans is higher than that
of earlier immigrants because the educational level is rising also in Mexico. Nevertheless, this
Those are Durand, Massey, Zenteno. Mexican Immigrants to the United States: Continuities and Changes;
Cornelius, Salehyan. Does border enforcement deter unauthorized immigration? The case of Mexican migration
to the United States of America; Vernez, Ronfeldt. The Current Situation in Mexican Immigration; Marcelli,
Cornelius. The Changing Profile of Mexican Migrants to the United States: New Evidence from California and
Mexico; Jones: Immigration Reform and Migrant Flows: Compositional and Spatial Changes in Mexican
Migration after the Immigration Reform Act of 1986; Mendoza. Economic and Social Determinants of Mexican
Circular and Permanent Migration, etc.
opinion is again not shared by all the scholars. Durand, Massey and Zenteno (2001) oppose
this statement and claim that the level of education is continuously low (117f; Marcelli –
Cornelius, 2001, 115).
There is a stable trend in sending places in Mexico and also in receiving states in the
U.S. . Although a slight shift can be detected in the destination states. Among receiving states
dominates mainly those: Guanajuato, Jalisco and Michoacan. Those are states in Western
Mexico that traditionally dominate (undocumented) migration flows to the USA. In the course
of the time also other states began to contribute to the migration flow: Durango, San Luis
Potosi and Zacatecas. Those six states make up about 50% of the total immigration to the
USA. Central Mexico contributes with 20% and border states comprise 30% of immigration
flow (Durand – Massey – Zenteno, 2001, 112f, 119).
In the U.S. the state receiving largest share of Mexican both legal and illegal
immigrants have traditionally been California, Arizona, Illinois New Mexico and Texas. In
1990s the number of destination states has grown encompassing also Colorado, Florida,
Georgia, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and also cities of New Jersey and New York.
Especially after the year 2000 there has been an increase in number of immigrants going to
non-traditional destination states (Durand – Masery – Parrado, 1999, 530; Pfeffer – Parra,
2008, 5). Gradually there was a shift from rural to the urban areas (Alvarez, 1966, 495).
An ability to speak English is one of the most persisting issues. It seems, however, that
this problem is rather matter of time. In 2000 among Mexicans living in the U.S. for less than
five years there were 41% of men and 46% of women who spoke Spanish only. Among those
who had been living in the U.S. for more than 20 years there were only 7% of men and 10%
of women speaking Spanish only (Katz – Stern – Fader, 2007, 175). This is the case of first
generation of immigrants with the second generation around 90% of immigrants have the
knowledge of English (Vernez – Ronfeldt, 1991, 3). The question is what will happen when
the new and possibly illegal immigrants come. Illegal immigrants might not have possibility
to learn English for they stick with ‗their own‘ people due to their illegal status. Thus this
might pose a serious disadvantage for those people.
4.5. Mexican government attitudes towards emigration
In Europe there is common practice that a state tries to protect its former citizens living in
diaspora. Typical example can be Hungary or Russia. This part of chapter looks at the Mexico
and its attitude towards its diaspora in the USA.
In the years immediately following Mexican-American war the issue of Mexican
immigrants in the U.S. was not in the centre of attention of Mexican government.
Furthermore, the Mexican government saw immigration as something natural that should not
be prevented. Later in the twentieth century the immigration was also seen as a kind of valve
for economic problems of the country. For most of the time the biggest support to the
Mexican immigrants in the U.S. was given by consulates. These were to play significant role
even in future. But their performance has always largely depended on the personality in
charge of the consulate and also on the support, especially financial, from the Mexican
government (Cano – Delano 2007, 7ff).
From the very beginning the Mexican government and public as well were informed
about the treatment of Mexicans in the USA. Nevertheless, Mexican government has never
had enough power to really do something about it. Public was naturally concerned about its
citizens being discriminated but there were times, especially at the beginning of the twentieth
century after the Mexican Revolution, when immigrants were seen as a traitors belonging
neither to Mexican nor to American society (Garza, 1998, 404). The issue of immigrants was
often used by government opponents to show how the government was failing its citizens. At
the very beginning of Bracero Programme Mexican government tried to protest against the
harsh working conditions of Braceros by refusing to send more of them to the U.S. (Daniels
1990, 397). But as the programme continued until 1964 and the conditions did not improve
much, it can be assumed that Mexican government was not very successful in dealing with the
Its contact with the diaspora was through consulates and the organization of Mexicans
in the USA. But once again, the support of these organizations very much depended on the
situation. According to Cano and Delano23 (2007), Mexican government, especially in the
1970s and 1980s, support the Mexican organization in the U.S. during the crisis time;
however, during the economic boom it rather lost interest in those groups (23f). In the 1990s
Gustavo Cano is a director of Transnationalism Research Project at the Mexico-North Research Network.
Alexandra Delano is a Post Doctoral Fellow at Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts in New
with the biggest influx of mostly illegal immigrants Mexican government was not able to
respond and protect its citizens. The reason for this is to be found in the economic situation
and mid-nineties crisis. Thus the Mexicans in the U.S. were left to their own faith (Durand –
Massey – Parrado 1999, 532).
Mexican government seems not to notice how powerful its negotiating position with
the U.S. can be. During the Bracero programme and also later in the U.S. economic boom
Mexican workers were a backbone of the U.S. agriculture and later also industry (especially
in the South-West). Without their cheap manpower it could have been much more difficult.
Another chance to take a strong stance and improve protecting of its citizens was lost during
NAFTA negotiations. NAFTA stands for North American Free Trade Agreement among the
U.S., Mexico and Canada. According to some authors it was also lost chance for the U.S. to
address the issue of illegal immigration from Mexico. The issue here is of course the third
member of the treaty (Canada) that does not share this problem. Nevertheless, the fact
remains that NAFTA does not deal with the issue of either legal or illegal immigration at all.
Although, the issue of free trade and free movement may be seen as very much interwoven
(Johnson 1994, 956ff).
In 1996 Mexican congress amended constitution enabling a dual nationality, which
helped illegal Mexicans in the U.S. to decide about their legal status in the States. For before
they were afraid of losing possibility to go back to Mexico. With the dual nationality this
dilemma was solved (Durand – Massey – Parrado 1999, 532f). Since 1990s there have been
some governmental projects aimed at improving relations and also situation of Mexicans
living in the USA. In 1990 so called Comunidades was established. Its purpose was to
organize various project connected with education, business, social care, culture. Another
important step of Mexican government towards better and deeper relations with its citizens
living abroad came in 2000. It was the foundation of Presidential Office for Mexicans Abroad
(OPME). The Office was headed by the president himself and aimed to establish direct
communication with Mexicans living abroad. In 2003 a new agency was formed; Institute of
Mexicans Abroad (IME). It put together agendas of Comunidades and OPME (Cano – Delano
2007, 27f, 32). With this last agency there is a hope to finally really address the problems of
Mexican immigrants to the U.S. .
5. The U.S. integration policy
Managing immigration policy is definitely one of the most important functions of the state.
Deciding who is let in or who is, on the other hand, left out; how long the immigrants want to
stay and how long they will be let stay. These decisions bring about more problems: how
much support the state gives to the newcomers and what the state requires of the immigrants.
The issue of integration could be compared to that of immigration in the significance. Once
you let the immigrants in, you can not and should not ignore them for the consequences of
ignoring them may be even worse. Jimenez (2007), an assistant professor of sociology at
Stanford University, calls the attitude of actually ignoring immigrants letting to deal with their
situation on their own ‗laissez fair‘ approach. The role of labour market providing
occupations to the newcomers and newcomers‘ strong motivation to integrate into the host
society are the most important features of the approach (8). However, the importance of
integration for society, especially the U.S. society that is in some regions highly dependent on
immigrant workforce, suggests that it should not be left to chance.
There are different types of immigrants: there are well-educated immigrants that do
not need so much support; there are refugees that despite being well-educated may need a lot
of help given the conditions of their departure from country of origin; there are also ordinary
immigrants with average or low level of education, with poor knowledge of the receiving
country; there are simply various kinds of immigrants and thus the integration policy is a very
complex issue of high importance.
5.1. Models of integration
According to Montserrat Guibernau (2007), currently a Visiting Fellow at University of
Cambridge, there are three possible integration models: assimilation, ghettoization and
multiculturalism. The differences among those three models rest in:
- the nature of national identity;
- the degree of cultural and religious tolerance of the receiving society;
- the rights (political, economic and civil) granted to immigrants in host country;
- the opportunities for immigrants participation and integration in political, social,
cultural and economic life of the receiving society;
- the significance of the dominant ethic group;
- the attitude of ethnic communities towards the culture, language, values, religion and
he ways of life of the host society;
- the significance attributed by ethnic communities to the full integration into the
receiving society (63f).
Assimilation is a way of integration that requires the newcomers to give up their cultural,
political and religious values and believes and also their language and to adopt those of
receiving society. Guibernau (2007) calls it ‗one-sided process of adaptation‘ where it is only
immigrants who take steps to adapt to the host country (65). Assimilation has a rather
negative connotation among social scientists and in public as well. This model was adopted
by many countries until approximately half of the twentieth century. With the civil rights
movement in 1960s this approach was largely abandoned and superseded by multiculturalism.
In twenty-first century a lot of states for example seem to return to assimilation in one way or
the other (Brubaker 2001, 532f). The second model is multiculturalism. The main concept
behind multiculturalism is that immigrants should be given equal rights as citizens of the
country but without being required to abandoned their culture or language (Guibernau 2007,
67f). The last mentioned model is ghettoization. Here the significance of the dominant ethic
groups is very high; the will of immigrants to adapt is low (also due to the marginalization in
the society); immigrants are not granted civic, economic or political rights. This leads to the
segregation and isolation of the immigrant communities from host society and also from
various immigrants groups as well (Guibernau 2007, 64f). This model is not mentioned by
The USA has actually adopted several integration policies during its history. Jimenez
(2007) argues that most common integration policy in the U.S. was the ‗laissez fair‘ approach
(8). The U.S. took this soon after declaring the independence. The vast territory attracted a lot
of people who were strongly determined to succeed in a new country and were also
determined to give up their old ways of life. Thus the integration relied only on the abilities of
immigrants. Other historic approach to integration taken by the U.S. was active approach
encouraging, sometime even forcing, to accept ‗the American way of living‘. So called
Americanization was actually assimilation. It started to be promoted in 1910s. The
immigrants were required to learn English and to give up their cultural identity. This is the
famous theme of the U.S, being a ‗melting pot‘ where the incomings are put in and mixed
together. At the end there is a new man, an American. This new American was not of a
neutral identity, given the history of the thirteen British colonies being a base for the U.S., the
American was thought of as WASP, White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Thus the immigrants
from different cultures were expected to conform to this identity (Guibernau, 2007, 119f).
After the Second World War the change in composition of immigration gradually led to the
confrontation with this policy for the new immigrants were not so willing to give up their
cultural identity as the previous ones. This was mostly because the first influx of immigration
came from Europe. Despite the differences in cultures of particular European states, the base
of those cultures was more or less the same, the Enlightenment, believe in human progress.
The immigrants were strongly attracted by American culture with its emphasis on
individualism and freedom. The new wave of immigration has come from cultures based on
completely different sets of values. Until 1965 there were special educational programme that
aimed at assimilating immigrants and ‗creating new Americans‘. This led to the friction and
rejection of American values and life styles rather than embracing them (Guibernau, 2007,
120f; Papademetriou, 2003). Assimilation or Americanization (as these two are considered to
be synonyms at that time) was seen as imposing European culture, moreover in an aggressive
way (Burdick-Will – Gomez, 2006, 213). Civil rights movements in 1960s brought focus on
the group differences and their right to preserve them. Thus since 1980s there has been a
strong accent on multiculturalism with its appreciation and underpinning of differences
among various ethnic groups and also various immigrant groups. Rather than ‗melting pot‘
the new integration approach favoured the idea of ‗salad bowl‘ where all the groups preserve
their ‗taste‘ (Burdick-Will – Gomez, 2006, 213). The idea of ‗salad bowl‘ is sometimes
referred to as ‗mosaic‘ (Peach, n.d.). Affirmative action has been started to play an important
role as a reversed discrimination or also called positive discrimination. Under affirmative
action the minority groups (immigrants, ethnic groups, and women) are given a preferential
treatment to secure that they can use equal opportunities (―Affirmative Action Defined‖).
Nowadays there are signs that assimilation is coming back as a valid approach towards
integration. Although this trend is more visible in European countries such as France and
Germany, also the U.S. scholars are debating relevancy of assimilation again (Brubaker 2001,
533). Some, like Samuel Huntington, a political scientist, has never abandoned concept of
assimilation and rather criticized multicultural approach (Huntington 2004, 32). On the other
hand, Brubaker (2001), Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles,
suggests another point of view. He states that assimilation in the first half of twentieth century
and assimilation that is said to gain importance in current societies are two different concepts.
The former one is the one criticized for forcing people to abandon their cultural identities,
whereas the ‗new‘ assimilation wave is rather about the society becoming similar or being
treated similar. Thus there is nothing to be objected to this type of assimilation and it can
actually be quite useful concept for studying integration (Brubaker 2001, 534f).
5.2. Principles of the U.S. integration
Leaving the theoretical approach behind, the U.S. integration policies have rested mostly on
education, naturalization and recently also on local integration projects. It is important to say
that the U.S. does not have a unified official approach to integration of immigrants on federal
level, however in recent years it has been widely discussed issue as the need for such a policy
is rising. Jimenez (2007) features several principles that the U.S. integration policy should be
in accordance with:
- the integration should be a two-way process including immigrant and the receiving
- federal government must play a leading role - it should set the guidelines for the state
and local governments; Jimenez also points out that integration policy should work
along with immigration policy, which is definitely in federal jurisdiction;
- local governments should be allowed to adjust the federal principals of integration to
the specific local situation;
- mastering English language is essential; it simplifies integration process and gives a
person more opportunities; at the same time he emphasizes the need to preserve
immigrant‘s mother tongue for this improves their competitiveness on the labour
- the U.S. citizenship itself is not enough for integration of immigrants – English
language, civic participation and also socioeconomic mobility play more prominent
- the integration of immigrants should be based on mutual cooperation of several actors
– federal state, particular states, local governments but also NGOs (non-governmental
organization) or private sector, and of course immigrants themselves;
- the actors mentioned in previous point should be able to share their knowledge and
experience with integration;
- the integration policy should be complementary to other institutions such as schools
and legal protection of immigrants (8ff).24
Similar division of main integration principals is given by Rinus Penninx from University of Amsterdam; for
more information see Integration: The Role of Communities, Institutions, and the State, October 2003,
Education has been mentioned as an important part of integration process. In the case of
immigrants it is important to state that both adults and children should be involved in
educational process. With both the English language is one of the most important skills to be
master. Although, English is not an official language of the USA. As a legacy of the founders
of the U.S., it is felt by many that it is one of the essential features of ‗Americans‘. The adult
education backs up by the Workforce Investment Act. The adult immigrants with limited
proficiency in English are provided with free English classes. Those educational programmes
for adults are partly financed by federal government and partly by particular state (Strum –
Biette eds., 2005, 40).
Integration of immigrant children may be considered easier for the children are
generally considered quicker learners than adults. Also one of the reasons for coming to the
U.S. may be better future for the children of immigrants. Furthermore, going to school seems
to be the least invasive way of integration. It is important to state that until 1950s the
segregation of schools for white majority and ‗coloured‘ minorities was not rare. In 1954 the
the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education declared ‗separate and
equal‘ schools to infringe the constitution. Krisztina Tihanyi (2007), from Cornell University
in Ithaca, claims that the desegregation process has not been finished yet, not even in the
twenty-first century (177f).25
The issue of English language is again very profound one. The most debated is
probably the bilingual education. In the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE)
definition bilingual education in the U.S. context means ―us[ing] the native languages of
English language learners (ELLs) for instruction‖ (NABE). There are both strong supporters
of the bilingual approach and tough opponents. The Bilingual Education Act was enacted in
1968.26 The Act gave children of immigrants who did not master English very well an
opportunity to catch up. This also provided a possible way of integration of those children.
The Act has been reauthorized several times, in 1974, 1978, 1984, 1988, 1994, and for the last
time in 2001 (Zelasko, n.d.). In 2001 it was renamed English Language Acquisition,
Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement Act as a part of No Child Left Behind
Act. It is aimed mostly on gaining proficiency in English (―Elementary & Secondary
The next chapter deals with segregation of Mexican pupils in greater detail.
There had been laws allowing bilingual education even before this one but they had been restricted to
particular state and usually concerned only English-French, English-German. The Bilingual Education Act of
1968 is broader in its coverage. See Bilingual Education: Legislation Timeline,
Education‖, 2010). The critics of this step complain that thus the bilingual education was
eliminated (Crawford, 1998; Moran, n.d.). Nevertheless, according to Gershberg, we do not
have enough information to declare that bilingual education either works well or does not
work at all (as cited in Strum – Biette eds., 2005, 20). Nevertheless, there are certain signs
that No Child Left Behind does not work properly; it has changed the criteria for allotting
funding and thus deprived traditional regions with a large number of immigrants of federal
state money (Strum – Biette eds., 2005, 21).
In 1998 the first of English for the Children initiatives occurred in California. Parents
were dissatisfied with the English teaching at Ninth Street School in Los Angeles and refused
to send their children to the school. They claimed that because the children are given
instructions in Spanish they are not forced to learn English. Their argument was that without
English knowledge they would be disadvantaged in the future. It ended up accepting
Proposition 227 in 1998 introducing English-only approach in education and practically
establishing English as an official language of California (Crawford 1998; Larsen et. al, 2009,
117). The same thing happened in Arizona in 2000, in Massachusetts and Colorado in 2002.
In Arizona and Massachusetts the ballots were approved, whereas in Colorado it was turned
down (Burdick-Will – Gomez, 2006, 216f).
Naturalization seems to be the easiest way how to integrate immigrants. The problem
is that not everyone wants to become an American citizen and those residing in the U.S.
illegally are not eligible for naturalization (―A Guide to Naturalization,‖ 2010, 17).
Furthermore, only becoming a citizen does not integrate you into the receiving society. As
Guibernau (2007) points out some racial groups was not accepted as Americans even though
they were U.S. citizens (120f). The number of people being naturalized in the twenty-first
century has been repeatedly very low. According to 2004 U.S. Current Population Survey out
of 34.2 million foreign-born population there were only 13.1 million with the U.S. citizenship
(Bloemraad, 2006, 668).
Other possible way of integrating immigrants is through local initiative. There were
already some projects on community level. It was for example Building the New American
Community Initiative (BNAC) founded in 2001. This Initiative recognized that integration
was a two-way process and tried to create and support cooperation between organizations
connected to immigrants and refugees and host community in order to integrate them. It also
focused not only on traditional immigration regions but on the other hand on the new site for
immigration. The model projects started exactly at such new sites, Lowell (Massachusetts),
Nashville (Tennessee) and Portland (Oregon). The main projects were not only about English
training or employment skills (although, immigrants themselves listed these as fundamental
for their integration) but also education of policymakers about the immigrant community,
engaging immigrants in drafting policies that influence both their and host community or
encouraging immigrant parents to take more active role in the school system. BNAC was
rather successful project but it had to face funding problem (Building the New American
Community). This may be a limiting factor for similar project in future. However, this project
may also help to solve the dilemma of new immigration destination regions. In the absence of
formal integration strategy on national level may face the uncertainty of how to deal with the
new immigration (Cabell, 2007, 27).
5.3. Integration of illegal immigrants
Undocumented immigrants being on the territory of the U.S. without official permission used
to be left more or less without any governmental help. The access for example to health care,
job or education has not been a problem. The end of the twentieth century saw a shift in the
treatment of illegal immigrants when the federal legislation started to restrict their access to
selected public services. The anti-immigrant mood in the U.S. society is said to be rising since
the late 1970s (Espenshade – Hempstead, 1996, 538). In 1990s came notional climax; when
the federal government was not able to stop illegal immigration, the states all over the U.S.
started to deal with it by themselves. The first and most discussed restrictive proposition was
passed in 1994 in California. This Proposition 187 was to prohibit illegal immigrant children
from attending public schools and also to deny illegal immigrants the access to various social
services, including non-emergency health care. This very strict law was later declared by
federal judge as unconstitutional and thus did not start to function. Nevertheless, this triggered
similar initiatives throughout the country (Espenshade - Hempstead, 1996, 536f). In 1996
Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) and the Illegal
Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA) cut illegal immigrants off the
public benefits funded by federal government. Since illegal immigrants have had an access to
short-term services, like short-term homeless shelter, crisis counseling, and emergency medical
care (Pfeffer - Parra, 2008, 3; Wilson, 2000, 201).
Since 2006 there has been a sharp increase in states‘ drafts that concern immigration. Most
of them dealt with illegal immigration and were mostly restrictive rather than favouring or helping
immigrants, both legal and undocumented. There were about 1,500 drafts introduced in 46 states
that dealt with health care, education, law enforcement, public benefits, etc. with a connection to
illegal immigrants. Many of those, however, were rejected (Pfeffer – Parra, 2008, 4f; Larsen et.
al., 2009, 116). Nevertheless, this is rather striking example of attitude towards illegal
The most important in dealing and in integrating illegal immigrants is the attitude of
the U.S. citizens towards them. As they elect their representatives in Congress or local
government and expect them to address their needs and problems. It is assumed (and it has
been proven by many surveys) that there are distinctions between educated and uneducated
citizens and (undocumented) immigrants; people that live in traditional immigration state
(that is closer to ‗real‘ immigrants that they can meet every day in the street) and people that
live in non-immigrants states or state experiencing immigration only recently. Educated
people are generally more liberal with (undocumented) immigrants that less educated fellow
citizen; for those especially illegal immigrants are direct competition at labour market. People
living with immigrants in neighbourhood are again more sensitive to their needs and more
open to integration (Larsen et. al., 2009; Z´arate – Shaw, 2010, 46f).
Pfeffer and Parra (2008) found out in their survey in state of New York that people
very much distinguish between legal and undocumented immigrants. They were very positive
about local government helping legal immigrants to find an affordable housing and helping
them to learn English but in most cases they were against providing these services to
undocumented immigrants (6f). The possible solution of this problem seems to be through
legalization of illegal immigrants or how Jonathan Rauch, a journalist, puts it ―bring them into
the open‖ (Rauch, 2007). The possible ways how to do it are better border control (this would
prevent illegal immigrants from coming in the U.S. but the problem is that border control has
already been functioning but without greater success). Amnesty is another option that was
already tested in 1986 and did not stop illegal immigration. Another suitable solution that
actually is very discussed is introduction of a new temporary worker or guest-worker
programme this may stop the exploitation of immigrants. Rauch admits that this could cause
the opposite effect and bring more illegal immigrants in. Other possibility is to focus on
employers who hire undocumented workforce through mandatory verification of employees
or through sanctions for hiring them (Rauch 2007; Jimenez, 2007, 7; Larsen et. al, 2009, 124 -
126). The main point behind these suggestions is that the responsibility and possibility to
change the situation rest largely with the federal government. Of course, the immigrants
coming to the U.S. have the choice to decide whether to wait and enter legally or take the risk
and come as illegal immigrants. However, the complexity and lengthiness of the whole
process and in the case of Mexicans the proximity and the relatively easy crossing to the U.S.
make illegal entry reasonable solution.
However, recently there have been some minor changes in state attitude towards
undocumented immigrants. Undocumented immigrants may obtain driving license, may open
a bank account (for the matricula card issued by Mexican consulate has started to be accepted
by Federal Reserve as an identity card) and also students at the U.S. college that are
undocumented immigrants pay in-state tuition (Strum – Biette, 2005, 21).
In 2011 the U.S. took part for the first time in the study called The Migrant Integration
Policy Index (MIPEX). This study is released by the British Council, the Migration Policy
Group and the Immigration Policy Centre. Thirty-two states were ranked and compared in
148 policy indicators. The U.S. was given the ninth position out of these thirty-two states. The
study says that in the U.S. there are job and educational opportunities, acquiring of the
citizenship is rather easy compared to other countries and it has strong anti-discrimination
laws and protections (Eliasson, March 8, 2011).
6. Integration of the Mexican immigrants into the U.S.
Mexicans coming to work in the U.S. were not expected to settle permanently both by
American public and also by themselves. ‗A trip‘ to the U.S. was a way how to cope with the
severe economic situation back in Mexico, the way how to support their families. But not
even the workers considered to stay permanently (at least not a majority of them), therefore
they did not even brought their families along. Some social scientists even did not reckon the
temporal immigration (legal or illegal), despite the number of newcomers, as significant
feature that could have an impact on the U.S. society (Massey, 1986, 670). The change came
in 1986 when such a temporal stays were made much more complicated and even dangerous
as more rigorous border control was introduced. Massey (1986) claims that this notion was
not entirely true even before 1986. He states that immigrants and their family became
dependent on the money earned in the U.S. and therefore workers came back to the USA.
Repeated and prolonged trips caused gradual change in the character of stay. The immigrants
started to slowly integrate into the U.S. society (671).
It is true that only in late 1960s there was a change in the society attitude towards
Mexicans living in the U.S. (Mexican-Americans). Largely this was caused by Mexican-
Americans themselves. As Montserrat Guibernau (2007) commented on the integration of
Jews, Italian and Poles; “recognition and inclusion had to be struggled for” (121). The same
is with the Mexican-Americans. Therefore, this chapter first looks at the civil right movement
of Chicano for it is the base for the recognition of Mexican-Americans place in the U.S.
society. The next part of this chapter looks at integration of Mexican-Americans into the host
society of the USA. Both legal and undocumented immigrants from Mexico have to face the
problems of integration. Therefore even though the illegal status of the immigrants may not
be highlighted on the following pages, these issues are very relevant for the topic of the thesis
for it concerns illegal immigration as well. Furthermore, the number of illegal immigrants in
the U.S. surpasses the number of legal ones (Larsen et al., 2009; Orrenius – Zavodny –
Luken, 2008, 1; Hoefer – Rytina – Baker, 2010, 4).
6.1. Chicano civil right movement
Chicano civil right movement can be roughly placed in second half of 1960s and the whole
1970s. This was time of nation wide civil right movements connected also with anti-war
protests. In this period the Mexican population in the U.S. activated and stepped out for the
recognition of their rights. Although this period was very intensive, it was not the very
beginning of Mexican social movement. It was rather its radicalization and transformation.
There had been Mexican organization protecting rights of Mexican in the U.S. before 1960s.
To mention just a few, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) or American G.I.
The oldest is LULAC founded in 1929 in Texas. The main reason for establishing
LULAC was an effort to stop racial discrimination against Hispanic (LULAC History, 2010).
After the Second World War the Hispanics were again facing the discrimination despite
serving in the U.S. army during the war. Encountering this discrimination himself, Dr. Hector
P. Garcia founded American G.I. Forum to fight against this injustice (History of American
G.I. Forum, 2011). Those and others organization dealing with the discrimination of Hispanic
people (most of them were Mexicans) seem to be rather powerless and unsuccessful to the
new generation in reaching their goal. The new generation also did not agree with
assimilation approach of those organizations (Gutiérrez, 2010). On the contrary, they
emphasized their Mexican roots and they were proud of their Mexican ancestry.
Chicano movement was not a unified movement. Rather there were several
organization and initiatives linked by the idea of Chicanismo that appealed to certain sets of
beliefs and political practice. Dignity, self-worth, pride was emphasized by Chicanos. The
name Chicano (Chicana for females) used to have a pejorative meaning. Only in 1960s it
became widespread. It was used especially by young Mexican-Americans who did not
attribute any negative connotation to this name. For them the name represented rather a
cultural revival and return to their roots (Gómez-Quiñones – Morris, n.d.).
Generally the movement focused on three issues: education, farm workers rights and
restoral of land. The best known representative of farm worker movement was Cesar Chavez,
a founder of United Farm Workers. He fought for recognition of farm worker union that
would force farm owners to pay workers better wage and also to secure them better living
condition in housing facilities. In 1965 Chavez and his followers agreed to join Filipino
workers in their strike against Delano-area grape growers. Chavez managed to gain national
attention to the strike. He for example organized a march from Delano to Sacramento or the
protests in front of the supermarkets. This strike took five years, during which Chavez himself
went even on 25-day hunger strike to support it. In July 1970 the grape growers finally agreed
to sign contract with the workers (UFW Chronology, 2006; Cesar Chavez Biography, 2007;
Nittle, n.d.). This is just an example how hard Mexican-American had to fight for their rights
to be recognized.
Together with farmers, students played a significant role in civil right movement. They
supported each other but students were primarily focus on the education issue. They fought
against the ban on Spanish in schools, Eurocentric curriculums and high drop-outs of school.
The drop-outs were according to them very much connected with Eurocentric curriculum and
the ban on Spanish for their needs were not addressed (Chicano! History of the Mexican
American Civil Rights Movement, 1996; Nittle, n.d.). In March 1968 members of United
Mexican American Students and Mexican American Youth Association organized the
walkouts in Abraham Lincoln High schools in East Los Angeles. More than 2,000 students
went to streets to protest against Mexican-American discrimination at schools. By the end of
that week more than 10,000 students walked out. It has been the biggest student strike in the
U.S. history. The biggest success of Chicano students was passing of Equal Opportunity Act
of 1974. It resulted in implementation of a bilingual education (Gutiérrez, 2010; Nittle, n.d.;
Timeline: Movimiento from 1960-1985).
In the land issue Chicanos were not so successful. Under the leadership of Reies
López Tijerina it was also the most violent part of Chicano movement. They claimed that the
U.S. broke the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended Mexican-American war by annexing
Mexican land. Tijerina wanted to arrest those people who were according to him responsible
for this mischief. He also tried to get the land issue on international level through Mexico,
Spain, United Nation or Organization of American States (Gutiérrez, 2010; Nittle, n.d.).
Towards the end of 1970s the Chicano movement began to weaken. However, many
organization founded at that time are still active, like UFW or student organization
Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA).
6.2. Problems faced by illegal Mexican immigrants
Employment and wages
Illegal immigrants are said to receive lower wages. This is true especially about illegal
Mexican immigrants. There are several studies that focused on the examination of the reason
for this and also on the comparison of illegal Mexican and non-Mexican immigrants or legal
and illegal Mexican immigrants. The trend in income is rather stable with illegal Mexican
immigrants. According to several studies illegal Mexicans are in the least paid group of
immigrants (together with other Latin American and Caribbean immigrants; see Rivera-Batiz,
2007) and also the least paid group of undocumented immigrants (Rivera-Batiz, 2001). While
in 1980 immigrants from Latin America and Caribbean earned $521 per week, other
nationalities immigrants earned $684 per week. Comparison with the situation in 2005 the
difference is even more pronounced because not only the difference stayed significant but also
the comparison of wage increase is noteworthy. In 2005 immigrants from Latin America and
Caribbean earned $565, other immigrants earned approximately $1,000. The income of non-
Latin American immigrants rose roughly by $300, whereas income of Latin American
immigrants it was only about $40 increase (Rivera-Batiz, 2007, 1410).
Comparing legal and illegal Mexican immigrants in 1980s, Massey (1987) found out
that illegal status had little impact on the low wages. He states that they were low rather
because of unskilled work the illegal immigrants did, their poor English knowledge, simply
because of low social capital on labour market (257f). On the other hand Rivera-Batiz (1999),
professor at Columbia University in the City of New York, examined the changes in status of
illegal immigrants after the legalization under IRCA 1986 and found out that their income had
risen after the legalization (111f). Although, the wage rate has been falling since 1990s, it did
not influence the productivity of illegal immigrants. Therefore they are so sought out by
employers because they are hardworking but they are very cheap labour as well (McCarthy –
Vernez, 1998, 31). This is also reason for anti-Mexican sentiments, the fear of losing a job to
illegal Mexican immigrants.
Discrimination and exploration is often mentioned when speaking about illegal
Mexican immigration. Massey (1987) and Rivera-Batiz (1999) disagree on this topic.
Massey‘s research from 1987 did not support this notion, saying that they ―are not special
targets of discrimination and exploitation by employers‖ (Massey, 1987, 258). Whereas
Rivera-Batiz research from 1999 suggested that undocumented immigrants were
discriminated against (Rivera-Batiz, 1999, 11f). The difference between these two researches
may be due to the time factor for the problem with illegal immigration sharply rose only in
1990s and therefore also the possibility of exploitation may have become larger as well. The
discriminatory issue may well be connected with anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican feelings
that also rose in 1990s.
Generally, the reasons for lower wages are lower level of education (in 2005 the
percentage of Latin American immigrants having less than twelfth years of education was
43.3%, this meant deterioration compared to situation in 1980 when the percentage was
58.3%); poor knowledge of English; changes in the U.S. labour market that started to focus on
skilled labour while the demand for unskilled workforce has been slowly decreasing;
interestingly enough the reason for gaining lower paid job is also the time of arrival, the
recently arrived immigrant are usually to find worse paid job, the longer they stay, the better
paid job they are able to find (Rivera-Batiz, 2007, 1425f).
The employment of illegal immigrants tends to be higher than of legal ones, for illegal
immigrants are mostly young men who have come to the U.S. to work and not to study for
example. Illegal women immigrants are, on the contrary, less often employed than legal
women immigrant. This is because the illegally staying women may stay at home with
children. The illegal immigrants are still most often employed in farming, even though the
number of illegal immigrants working in agriculture has been steadily declining for several
years. Massey states that newcomer aim to agriculture occupations but as they stay longer
they move to non-agricultural jobs. Urban workers stay in non-agricultural occupations from
the very beginning of their stay. The new urban workers are usually off the books employees
being by cashed. Massey states that after fifteen years of experience they usually move into
better condition job, they are paid by check and also the taxes are withheld from their income,
which is the sign of integration into the host society (Massey, 1986, 676f). The other
occupations are cleaning, construction, food preparation, etc. (Passel, 2005, 10ff).
Schools have always been a place where the discrimination against Mexicans was most
evident. In 1940s there was even a case when Mexican children were refused to be enrolled in
elementary schools (Perea, 2004, 1420). Even though children of Mexican workers were later
admitted to American schools, they were separated from non-Mexican pupils and forbidden to
speak Spanish under the threat of corporal punishment. They were supposed to be farmers or
more generally cheap labour force and therefore there was no need to educate them more than
it was ‗necessary‘ (Perea, 2004, 1439). The dropouts among Mexicans were extremely high.
The walkouts of 1968 were then the climax of a long history of discrimination and
humiliation (Chicano!, 1996).
Desegregation of schooling for Mexican and other minorities was slowly introduced
since the mid-1960s. But it is said that in 1980s the public attention to this issue began to
enfeeble and therefore even the process of desegregation has slowed down (Tihanyi, 2007,
180). Bilingual education that started to be implemented in 1974 based on the Equal
Opportunity Act. Ever since its implementation it has been rather controversial with strong
supporters as well as strong opponents. While supporters claim that acquisition of English is
very important but it should be taken into account that children do better in their native
language and consequently should be given the opportunity to study in Spanish, at least at the
beginning. Furthermore, Spanish language is very much connected with Mexican culture
being one of the main features that distinguishes it from others (Perea, 2004, 1427).
On the other hand, opponents claim that bilingual education only prevents young
immigrants from acquiring proper knowledge of English. Consequently, they are
disadvantaged later at work for their limited English knowledge also limits their job
opportunities. The only-English approach is also connected with acculturation. Proponents of
acculturation believe that the more a person is connected with host society (accepts its
traditions, way of living, language), the more successful he/she will be in that society because
this makes the immigrant citizens27 (Padilla – Gonzalez, 2001, 728; Burdick-Will – Gomez,
2006, 216). Nevertheless, according to 2000 Census there were 91.1% children of Mexican
immigrants who spoke English well and the percentage of grandchildren of Mexican
immigrants was even higher, 97% (Jimenez, 2007, 1).
According to Juan F. Perea, professor of law at University of Florida, the deliberate
segregation and discrimination of Mexican children at American schools still continue. In
2000 the high school dropout of was about 27%. This is twice the dropout rate of Blacks and
fourth times more than with White children (Perea, 2004, 1423). Perea (2004) also claims that
Mexican children are still regard as lazy and not very clever. Their parents are said not to care
about their children education. For all those reasons Mexicans are viewed as not in need of
quality education. They are still rather seen in vocational and technical courses, while they
Even though, of course, they become the real citizens only after naturalization process.
tend to be underrepresented in classes for talented students (1442f). On the other hand,
Jimenez (2007) states that in 2004 about 58% of Mexican immigrants did not have high
school diploma, whereas only 17% of their children were in the same situation (1). The point
here is not that the change is not happening; only it is happening very slowly and there are
strong prejudices deeply rooted in American society against Mexicans.
This bachelor thesis dealt with two rather sensitive topics: illegal immigration and the
integration of those illegally arrived immigrants. This is not an easy issue for any country, for
the original inhabitants may feel threatened by the newcomers; they may fear losing their job
to cheaper force from abroad, they may fear the rise of criminality when there is a high
concentration of immigrants. These fears may not be well-founded, nevertheless, they are
deeply embedded in almost all societies. This may be rather the case of natural reaction to
However, the U.S. emerged as an immigration nation so why should the immigration
and integration even be a topic for discussion. In the thesis it was showed that even the U.S.
with its reputation of immigration nation has to face serious issues. As far as immigration is
concerned, the system of law is very much sophisticated, which may, paradoxically, support
illegal immigration. Because the process of getting permission to enter the U.S. legally is so
complicated and protracted that the immigrants sometimes rather take the risk of illegal entry.
The problem of illegal Mexican immigration is very complex. Firstly, its part plays the
fact that it was not considered a problem by the U.S. government. Secondly, there are a lot of
people and companies that profited and still profit from cheap labour force from Mexico.
They have a strong lobby in Congress and thus have so far prevented any change to be done
and any real steps to be taken to seriously deal with the problem of illegal immigration.
Thirdly, there is a legislation that tries to deal with illegal immigration but it is mostly
aimed at preventing Mexican immigrants from getting into the country. After introducing a
considerably strengthened border patrol (increase in staff and budget) more than a decade ago,
there has not been shown much of progress or improvement. It cannot be said that there are no
consequences of this strategy but it is definitely not enough to contain illegal immigration
from Mexico completely. There is also legislation concerning the employers of illegal
immigrants. Search for work is definitely one of the most important factor (it would not be
exaggerated if it is indicated as the most important) that leads Mexicans towards the final
decision to immigrate. Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 introduced the
sanction against employers who deliberately employ illegal immigrants. Those are, however,
not used very often. Another important fact is that crossing the border is still possible thing to
do. Although, it is much more complicated than it used to be, still it is happening. Moreover,
after decades of Mexican immigration to the U.S., there is a considerable network of other
immigrants that can help a newcomer, which makes the whole process of immigration easier.
Integration is another hot topic. In the U.S. history it was usually immigrants
themselves who took care of the integration. Later it was local government and it has stayed
with it until nowadays. However, current immigrant population is different from the past one;
it has different cultural background and is also much larger than the ones before. Although,
the role of local government cannot be substituted, in the current situation of high anti-
immigrants feelings (that have been manifested by the series of rather strict immigrant laws in
several states), the need for national integration policy is clear.
Beginning in the 1990s the situation for illegal Mexican immigrants has begun to
worsen. Before they were on margins of society but since 1990s local governments have tried
to keep them from the possibility of using several public services and sometimes succeeded.
This is, however, not a solution to the problem, for the illegal Mexican immigrants keeps
coming and to ostracize them in this way may lead only to worsening of the situation.
The aim of the thesis was to give an overview of the current situation of illegal
Mexican immigrants in the U.S. The truth is that the situation and mutual relations between
illegal Mexican immigrants and the U.S. government and public is complex and complicated.
As to any other complex problem, there will not be an easy solution. The most important
thing for both the U.S. public and government and for illegal Mexican immigrants is to
continue to look for that solution together, for it cannot be found by only one of those groups.
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