Patterns of Mexican Migration to the United States

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Esmeralda Rodriguez-Scott

Center for International Studies

University of St. Thomas

Houston, Texas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prepared for delivery at the 82nd annual meeting of the Southwestern Social Science Association

New Orleans, Louisiana

March 27-30, 2002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mexican migration to the United States has been a major area of contention for U.S.-Mexico bilateral relations since the 1920s. Despite restrictive U.S. immigration law, Mexico continues to be the leading country of origin for legal and illegal migrant workers into the United States.

Mexico’s migration was initially encouraged by the United States with the construction of the railroad system across borders and with the Bracero Accords in which Mexican workers were recruited to help ease labor force shortages in their economy that resulted due to a number of factors. However, in periods of adequate labor supply, U.S. immigration policies have reflected a restrictive approach, geared towards discouraging the flow of Mexican migrants into the U.S. with polices that include the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) with its various amendment.

I will analyze the social, economic and political factors that explain Mexican migration patterns to the United States from the 1920s to present-day. The paper will incorporate the major elements of the Mexico-United States bilateral relationship that have impacted Mexican migratory flow and incorporate U.S. immigration policies that have influenced Mexican migration patterns both legally and illegally. Understanding Mexican migration patterns is a timely project since it is now placed at the top of the list of policy priorities for both countries.

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Mexican migration to the United States has been a major area of contention for U.S.-Mexico bilateral relations since the 1900s. Historically, there have been periods of shared interests in promoting migratory flows. Today, U.S. immigration legislation has become more restrictive, partly reflecting an American concern for the high level of Mexican immigration. Nevertheless, Mexico continues to be the leading country of origin for migrant workers, legally and illegally, into the United States. Mexico cannot easily be ignored for many reasons. Among those reasons is the unavoidable reality that both countries share the same 2,000-mile border. This close proximity makes each other susceptible to the consequences of domestic events: the issues of one affects the other. In addition, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has helped tie the countries further by making Mexico the U.S.’ second largest trading partner.

The issue of Mexican immigration, its impact, and contributing factors had not been an issue of great concern in North America until the 1900s. It was only when events around the world affected the United States in which it found itself entering a war, sending its men to fight and quickly having to recruit individuals from other countries for the left behind jobs. Businessmen in various U.S. sectors found themselves in a difficult position. Women were the only answer to fulfill the increasing number of job vacancies that existed in manufacturing and agriculture sectors. On the other hand, American women were concerned about the care and education of their children. If women worked they would then have to incur the extra costs of daycare. In addition, hard hit sectors such as agriculture could no longer employ minors due to child labor laws established with the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA). FLSA legislation established minimum ages for employment in agriculture.

Because of Mexico’s close proximity, negotiations over a guest worker program occurred between U.S. President Roosevelt and Mexican President Avila Camacho in the 1940s. This guest worker program would permit migration of Mexicans into the United States under contracts in order to relieve needing sectors. This Mexican Farm Labor Program (MFLP) came to be known as the Bracero Program. However, this was not the first time that migration had been encouraged by the United States. Guest worker programs were the beginning to legal and illegal immigration, an issue that continues to be controversial between the U.S. and Mexico.

To better understand the immigration issue and the Bracero Program, we must first look at the events that occurred in Mexico and the United States that gradually led to guest worker programs negotiations. We must also look at the Bracero Program, immigration policies, analyze the factors that contribute to migration flows, and evaluate current immigration negotiations between Mexico and the United States.

 

 

 

 

UNITED STATES RAILROAD

United States history presents critical events that led to their involvement in encouraging migration from Mexico to the United States. As a fairly new and eager country, the United States government leaders as well as business owners were aware of the importance in physically uniting the country. To do so would require connecting the east to the west coast, the north to the south, and all the coast points to the less populated middle America with the use of the railroad. Business owners immediately saw the cost benefits of building and expanding the railroad. The U.S was also interested in connecting their country with their neighbors for economic prosperity and trade. With this transcontinental transportation medium, it was obvious to both parties the benefits such as the reduction of production and transportation costs, faster shipping of goods, increased profits, new markets, faster service to consumers and lower product prices while creating a strong, powerful country.

When the first railroads were constructed in the 1830s and 1840s, U.S. railroad companies hired immigrants from Irish and German neighborhoods in New York, Philadelphia and Boston (Driscoll 1999, 13). However, these Irish and German immigrants were not willing to move away from their families and cities as the railroad expanded to more rural areas. In addition, laying railroad tracks was extremely dangerous, intensive and grueling labor. These immigrants soon realized that the agricultural sector had higher wages and better working conditions than the railroad construction business. Railroad construction companies found themselves losing workers to death, agriculture sector, and the Civil War.

After the U.S. Civil War, the railroad became a priority in rebuilding the devastated country. Yet, the railroad companies found themselves with a shortage of workers. Companies began to hire Chinese workers from China and the U.S. west coast through large scale contracting. U.S. companies were happy with Chinese immigrants work ethic. In contrast, protests from Americans against the Chinese increased. The Chinese experienced rejection and discrimination by Americans because of their significantly different culture and inability to assimilate to American way of life. These protests and criticisms eventually led the U.S. government to pass the Exclusion Acts of 1882 in which companies were forced to no longer hire Chinese immigrants "during such suspension it shall not be lawful for any Chinese laborer to come, or, having so come after the expiration…to remain within the United States" (Mount Holyoke College 1).

When it came time to extend the railroad to the south, the railroad companies once again found themselves with insufficient laborers as a result after of the Exclusion Acts. Towns were scarcely populated in the south and even more so along the border. The railroad was not only intended to be transcontinental but was to serve as a link between the U.S. railroad and the Mexican railroad. Mexican railroads were also expanding in the late 1880s under the Porfirio Diaz administration. The three Mexican railroad companies included Ferrocarriles Nacionales de Mexico, Ferrocarriles de Sonora and El Ferrocarril Central Mexicano. The United States as well a Mexico encouraged Mexicans from the interior of Mexico to move to border areas with the promise of work on the railroad. U.S. railroad companies were happy with the migration flow. The more men that migrated to the border, the more U.S. companies could hire at cheaper wages. Thus, began the first immigrant contract labor or guest worker program for Mexicans.

 

FIRST AND SECOND BRACERO PROGRAMS

Bracero translates to "day laborer", "arm man", or manual laborer. The first bracero program was initiated during World War I. Mexicans easily found employment as a result of the Immigration Act of 1917. Under this act, Asians were not permitted to enter the country and work by restricting "the immigration of Asian persons, creating the "barred zone" or Asia-Pacific triangle (U.S. INS 2001). In addition to the exclusion of Asians from the Asia-Pacific Triangle, the Immigration Act of 1917 also excluded illiterates from entering the country and expanded the list of reasons for which individuals could not enter the country. Ironically, this meant that many Mexicans should never have been permitted to enter the U.S. as workers. However, the Secretary of Labor William Wilson was able to find a loophole in the law that made it possible to exempt Mexicans from the Exclusion Act of 1917 under certain economic conditions. Because of World War I, the economic conditions in the U.S. made it acceptable to authorize waivers primarily in the agricultural sector in addition to the railroad, mining, and construction sectors. The exceptions were made for a period from 1917 to 1921 as long as employers indicated that immigrants were needed to fulfill vacancies in their sectors. This is the lesser known first bracero program (Driscoll 1999). Author Barbara Driscoll (1999) points out that the first bracero program is not extensively documented because it had not monitored by an office or administration. The first bracero program was not as large as had been the second bracero program. Because of the significant number of migrants needed with the Bracero Program of 1942, the USDAs War Food Administration’s Office of Labor was initially responsible for it later transferring it to the Department of Labor in 1947 (Gamboa 1990, 41 and 121).

Recruiting of Mexicans was facilitated through mass media such as newspaper, radio, and through word of mouth. These advertisements were offering migrant workers anywhere from $1.00-2.00 USD a day plus transportation. Those who wished to migrate further to the interior and to the Pacific Northwest were promised anywhere from $1.50 –1.75USD. a day. (Driscoll 1999, 22; Gamboa 1990, 50). As with immigrants in the past, railroad companies had a difficult time retaining their workers or quickly filling positions because agriculture and construction sectors were offering better working conditions and better wages that did not include the deduction of housing fees. Migrants eventually began to diversify into the meat packing industries, automotive plants, and steel plants as they moved beyond border areas and into the interior and north for further job opportunities. Because they could not easily commute back and forth from the interior as they did along the border, they began to establish neighborhoods in areas near their place of employment. This was the beginning of a social process in which Mexican immigrants began to establish roots in the U.S.

After WWI, Mexicans continued to be employed in the railroad and agriculture business. However, new immigration legislation in 1921 and 1924 increased the fees of legal migration thus making way for increased illegal migration. The situation for Mexicans was intensified with the Great Depression of 1929. Migrants were the first to find themselves unemployed because they lacked the skills necessary to retain that job. As the economic situation worsened, Americans vented their anger about their economic situation and blamed Mexican migrants for the jobs available to the American people. As xenophobia and pressure grew in the United States, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) initiated a repatriation program.

As the U.S. exited the Great Depression and the economic situation improved, the U.S. saw a period of rapid growth in the industrialization sector. The period of industrialization growth in the U.S. during the 1930s eventually lead to the official Bracero Program of 1942. Americans, especially the rural, agricultural field workers, were attracted to the working conditions and wages offered in the growing sector. Thus, leaving a high number of agricultural job vacancies. Efforts by the United States government failed in attempting to recruit sufficient American workers for the agricultural business. In 1941, growers had no choice but to ask the U.S.D.A. to "permit the importation of Mexican agricultural workers" (Driscoll 1999, 52-53). The U.S. created the MFLA or Bracero Program of 1942 only as a temporary program in which the U.S. contracted Mexican workers for short-term farm labor. 4.6 million Mexican workers were processed with this accord (Durand et al. 2001,11).

According to the Handbook of Texas Online, the program was suppose to have guaranteed a minimum wage of thirty cents an hour and humane treatment a well as adequate shelter and food (Handbook of Texas Online 1997a). Those that signed on to the Bracero Program were given temporary working visas to enter and work in the United States. Once their contracts expired, they were to return their visas and return to Mexico. Unfortunately, from the beginning Mexican braceros were at a disadvantage when they were required to sign English only contracts in order to work. They did not receive a verbal or written translation of the contracts nor were made aware of their rights and benefits.

Because many braceros were outstaying their authorization visas, the U.S. saw an increase in illegal immigration. There was a rise in complaints and criticism from individuals and groups over the illegal immigrants impact in agriculture. These individuals and groups claimed that immigrants were displacing native agricultural workers, increasing the violation of labor laws, as well as increasing crime, disease, and illiteracy. Therefore, Operation Wetback was launched in Texas in 1954 in which mass deportations of illegal wetbacks (mojados) were conducted daily through the search of U.S. businesses. 4,800 illegal immigrants were captured in the first day of Operation Wetback and subsequently averaged 1,100 per day (Handbook of Texas Online 1997b). Illegal workers were returned to Mexico at the nearest border town via train, buses, trucks, and later on ships such as the "Emancipation" from Port Isabel, Texas. The goal was to send the immigrants as far in to Mexico in order to discourage them from returning to the U.S. In 1954, a total of 1.1 million individuals were returned to Mexico through Operation Wetback. (Handbook of Texas Online 1997b). As criticism continued against the braceros, the Department of Labor issued a study in 1959 in which it stated that domestic farm workers were at a "disadvantage" due to the Bracero Program (Garcia y Griego 1998, 1218). As a result the Bracero Program came to an end in 1963.

 

 

FROM THE MEXICAN REVOLUTION TO THE 1970s

In order to fully understand migration flows of Mexicans into the United States we must look at the totality of the situation including Mexican historical events. Mexico had been a country in the control of at least fifty separate presidencies from 1821-1860, with each averaging a year (Skidmore and Smith 1997, 229). Military coups were the norm. The different presidencies, each with his own policies, as well as the independence war had left Mexico in a state of disaster and uncertainty. Internal problems increased when government officials signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in February 1848 in which the United States compensated Mexico in exchange for the territory that extended from Texas to California. Thus, ending the Mexican-American War or the War of the North American Invasion as it is known in Mexico.

The signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo began the internal conflicts between the Liberals and the Conservatives and the period known as La Reforma along with a civil war in which Benito Juarez executes Maxmilian von Hapsburg of Austria and ends monarch rule. When Porfirio Diaz took control of the government in 1876, he found himself with a country whose economy was worse than any other Latin American country had seen. Mining, textile industry, transportation and communication systems were no longer thriving and unemployment problems were increasing leading to social problems (i.e. increased crime). Because the Spaniards had been ordered out of the country, their investments were no longer available to boost the economy. These conditions helped the poverty rate grow and unemployment rose leaving the country with an incredible amount of labor surplus. This labor surplus would later benefit the United States.

In the Diaz Era (1876-1970), Mexico entered an era of progress, recuperation, and economy boost but at a cost to the working poor. Diaz concentrated on enforcing the ban on corporate landholdings by the Mexican Indians and their lands were taken away. In addition, all people were required to use their land or risk confiscation. An example of the improving Mexico and its desire to modernize can be seen through the building and expanding of railroads in the late 1880s. By 1900, Mexico had 12,000 miles of track which would eventually fall under state control in 1907 (Skidmore and Smith 1997, 232). Along with the expansion of railroads and industrialization, Mexico found itself to be the United States’ primary trading partner. By 1895, Mexico had produced a budget surplus.

However, the wealth accumulated in Mexico was not equally distributed. The rich became richer, the poor became poorer, with no real middle class developed as was the case in other Latin American countries. To this day, there is no real middle class in Mexico. As can be imagined, the poor became highly upset at the drastic differences in social classes that had been created, upset that they did not have their own land to cultivate because it had been taken over by the state for commercial cultivation or for the rich, upset at the unemployment, and upset at the low wages that existed as inflation increased. These issues along with the centralization of the government were the recipes or the "social ingredients" that would lead to huelgas (strikes) and eventually to the Mexican Revolution of 1910 (Skidmore and Smith 1997, 232). The Revolution produced Mexican heroes for the Mexicans peones. These revolutionary heroes fought for the people of lower class, the agricultural workers, the Indians, for agrarian reform, for equal distribution of economic progress in Mexico, and for the opportunity to gain power and control of the country. Among them were Francisco Madero, Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. It was during this time that the relationship between Mexico and the U.S. worsened with tension and became more distant.

The Revolution of 1910 was an uprise by the masses against the highly centralized and often corrupt government that had developed and taken lands away from the poor to give to the state or the rich. The people believed that this was the only way to restore justice for the poor and close the gap between the rich and the poor. Unfortunately, the Mexican Revolution did not bring the expected social reform to the masses. The presidents that followed Victoriano Carranza, Alvaro Obregon, Plutarco Elias Calles were more preoccupied with political stability, economic modernization and reforms based on their own visions and not for the benefit of the masses. Later, President Lazaro Cardenas became a favorite of the masses and to this day is known for having been the president to distribute the most land to the Mexican landless. However, his efforts were not as successful as he envisioned for the people did not receive adequate assistance when receiving their small plots (i.e. funds, educational or labor assistance) in order to prosper or successfully utilize their lands. The administrations following the Cardenas administration were more concerned with redirecting the country in the Post Revolution period with an emphasis on the notion of nationalism that Cardenas had instilled when he nationalized oil fields and its production in Mexico thus creating PEMEX. Presidents Manuel Avila Camacho, Miguel Aleman, and Adolfo Ruiz Cortines concentrated on industrialization which resulted in ignoring the agricultural sector and caused massive emigration from rural to urban areas. Presidents Adolfo Lopez Mateos, Gustavo Diaz Ortaz, and Luis Echeverria were known to repress labor workers in the time of the railroad rebellion, repress university students who grew dissatisfied with the political events occurring in Mexico, oppressing the poor, controlling other government officials, and in controlling the press as well as increasing government control over economic sectors; communications, commerce, industry, foreign investment (Levy and Szekely 1983).

In the period from 1940s to 1970s, Mexico was administered using the growth model in which the administrations desperately wanted to depart from Revolution period, achieve economic stability and growth while concentrating on industrialization. According to Levy and Szekely (1983), this resulted in agricultural contribution to total production decreasing from 21% to 11% while industrial contribution increased from 25% to 34% (Levy and Szekely 1983, 127). This caused mass emigration to Mexican urban areas that then resulted in overcrowding of cities, increasing the poor in the cities, and unemployment for those in the rural areas. Rural areas suffered because their agricultural skills or products were no longer requested nor appropriately supported by the government. However, the governments believed that this economic stability and growth would permit them to create a country that would attract foreign investors resulting in a further improved Mexican economy, infrastructure, roads, trade, etc. This shift in priority from agricultural to industrial had a significant affect on those primarily from the western states of the country that were dependent on agriculture.

In addition to the mass emigration within Mexico, population drastically grew thereby further contributing to the now overpopulated cities which causing further poverty and unemployment especially as the population reached working age. People found themselves in a situation in which migrating to the north was the only solution.

As we can see from this brief Mexican political and economic history of Mexico, the reasons for migrating were obvious for those living the consequences of presidential administrations’ policies. The situation in Mexico would worsen as conditions in Mexico slowly lead to the first peso crisis in 1976. José Lopez Portillo was able to alleviate the crisis but once again in the history of Mexico, the working poor, the landless peasants, or peasants with land were not a priority as the administration preferred to take austerity measures to bring forth economic stability and growth rather than equality.

Along with Lopez Portillo, Miguel de la Madrid governed in a time when Mexico faced the economic crisis of the 1980s that involved inflation, devaluation of the peso, poor exchange rates, low wages, high prices, and increasing unemployment. The working poor suffered because the government cut back spending in areas of public work projects which primarily provided work for the poor.

 

MEXICO AND US REACTION TO IMMIGRATION

Immigration issues were not as important to deal with in presidential administrations and in Congress after the passing of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. However, President Jimmy Carter’s administration (1977-1980) knew the importance and potential that Mexico held as its next close neighbor and as one of the larger countries in Latin America. However, Congress did not do much to on his proposed immigration legislation during his administration.

Both President Carter and Mexican President Lopez Portillo were inaugurated around the same time. Mexico was experiencing a time of stability with its newly discovered oil fields. GDP levels were on the rise again and the once overvalued peso was returning to more appropriate levels. Foreign capital was flowing back into Mexico as a result of its positive comeback. At the same time Mexico was slowing gaining its independence politically and economically by restricting foreign investors capabilities and refusing to cut ties with countries that the U.S. did not want other to negotiations with (ex.Cuba).

Because of the these problems, an increase in migration flows from Mexico to the U.S. had occurred. The 1970s was a time in which negativity in the public was growing as immigration increased. It did not help that the U.S. economy did not improve and that the U.S. suffered from an oil shortage while Mexico found itself with an oil surplus. U.S. was interested in negotiating with Mexico for a share of the oil. As Marc Rosenblum (2000) points out in U.S. Relations with Mexico and Central America the "Mexican economy was booming…and demanded capital and technology imports and markets for oil and labor. The United States had capital and technology to spare and a growing demand for oil" (Rosenblum 2000, 10).

President Carter first met with Mexican President Lopez Portillo before any other diplomat of any other country thus establishing his agenda in regards to bilateral negotiations with Mexico. The Carter administration wanted to develop their foreign policies in order to address Latin America’s integration into the world economy, secondly to address the increase of illegal immigrants, and U.S. interest to obtain oil from Mexico (Rosenblum 2000, 15). Mexico, on the other hand, wanted to ensure human rights protections for all legal and illegal Mexicans in the U.S., cease its dependence on the U.S. for economic and political issues, increase nationalism in Mexico and wanted U.S. bilateral policies to be sensitive and responsive to Mexico’s position over issues in a manner that would "reflect the bilateral character" of their issues (Rosenblum 2000, 16). Basically, Mexico wanted to be consulted in the policy making process in regards to bilateral issues.

Historically, Mexico had had no say in the majority of bilateral matters that had concerned both countries and had no choice but to accept U.S. policies. Mexico had been too involved in its own domestic matters to hold talks with the U.S. regarding immigration policies. Mexican officials remained "silent, treating the legislation as an internal matter of the U.S. about which it would be inappropriate to comment" or what is called a "no policy" policy in which it would only comment as necessary to "protect the human rights of its nationals in the U.S. (Weintraub 1998, 1231). Rafael Fernandez de Castro (1998) also notes Mexico’s non-engagement policy on migration from the end of the Bracero program in 1964 up until the 1980s. As the silent country, Mexico’s position on the issue of migration had been unclear. Yet it would not stop Mexicans from crossing the border. Mexican officials believed that by stopping Mexicans from transiting into the U.S. would mean taking away a constitutional guarantee provided by the Mexican constitution, the right to free transit. In addition, Mexico considered the Mexican migration process as a "straight forward supply-demand model" (Fernandez de Castro 1998, 30). This model dictates that as long as opportunities were available in the U.S. and labor was in surplus in Mexico, Mexicans would cross the border to jump at these opportunities and no one could do anything to avoid it.

The change in their attitude came with the help of Ascencio and IRCA. According to Weintraub (1998), credit can be given to U.S. Congress created Commission for the Study of International Migration and Cooperative Economic Development or commonly referred to the Ascencio Commission for establishing an environment or agenda in which Mexico could provide input on migration issues. This commission was established to "deal with the root causes of illegal immigration to the US" (Migration Review 1994). This Ascencio Commission was what first helped open dialogue between the two countries in order to better deal with migration issues.

The passing of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) in 1986 also prompted Mexicans officials to change their attitude toward dealing with migration. Mexicans in Mexico and the United States placed pressure on Mexican government officials in Mexico and the U.S. to speak out on IRCA. Mexicans began to see an increase in U.S. hostility toward migrants.

In addition, the Mexican government began to recognize the importance of migrants to their economy with the sending of migradollars. These remittances were and still are Mexico’s safety valve. The free trade agreement of the 1994 with U.S. and Canada along with the growth of political pluralism increased pressure on Mexican government to approach U.S.-Mexico migration policy differently (Fernandez de Castro 1998). However, Mexican Presidents Salinas de Gotardi and Zedillo addressed the migrant issue differently in NAFTA. Mexican President Salinas de Gotardi optimistically viewed NAFTA as a means of retaining Mexicans in Mexico. He hoped that Mexicans would not find it necessary to migrate to the U.S. for employment opportunities and better wages that they desperately sought by crossing the dangerous river or deserts connecting the U.S. and Mexico. He strongly believed that NAFTA would keep Mexicans from migrating legally and illegally and leaving their families and friends in search of a better future. On the other hand, President Zedillo believed NAFTA was an opportunity to address, improve, and expand economic situations for migrant workers.

 

MIGRATION PATTERN DEVELOPMENT

In addition to the economic factors, Richard Mines and Douglas Massey (1985) believe that to understand the "phenomenon of international migration" one must understand how immigrants form ties that develop and change over time (Mines and Massey 1985, 104). This change helps make migration a social process. Sociologists have found that the process begins when a country, such as the U.S. encourages or recruits from labor surplus countries such as Mexico through guest worker programs. The process evolves because the social and economic situations of migrants change over time. For example, the braceros closer to the border could afford to move back and forth daily across the border without an increasing expense burden. However, as migrants began to move toward the Pacific North, for example, it was no longer feasible to travel as often to see their family. Thus, they began the process of commuting seasonally to their country of origin. According to Mines and Massey and Mines (1985) "the cost and benefits of migration become cleared and others are induced to move….the cost drops, slowly at first and them dramatically, as friend and relatives acquire contacts and knowledge in the receiving society. They also point out that some migrants choose to settle in a particular places and create a "ready made support network for further migration" (Massey and Mines 1985, 105) The characteristics that influence individuals to migrate depend on their own characteristics and vary from person to person and place to place. These differences may lie in the different levels of education, work history, and prior migration experiences. In addition, when deciding whether the risks, costs, and distance of migrating are beneficial or not, the individual must also take into consideration characteristics in the place of origin that also influence migration such as levels employment/unemployment ages, speed of technological changes, economic and political situations, socio-economic status, social networks, and local opportunities (Kanaiaupuni 2000). Studies find that people with a better economic situation are less likely to migrate than are people of lower incomes. However, in the past few decades there has been a change in the demographics of the people that migrate as well as an increase in more skilled, urban, and educated individuals migrating from Mexico to the United States.

What makes migration a social network is the number of contacts that a person in Mexico has with a migrant in the United States. The more contacts one has the more likely individuals will migrate. The reason being that the contacts have the ability to reduce migration costs. For example, new contacts in the U.S. can provide information that facilitates new migrants experience such as providing information a place to stay, information on employment opportunities, transportation, etc.

Mexican migrants find it necessary to migrate because they are unable to obtain the economic stability in Mexico to obtain the necessary or desired things for their families. Migrants begin to see the benefits of migrating as their purchasing power increases and find they now pay for utilities, new furniture, and investment in small family owned business. It is these benefits that motivate migrants to migrate and families to accept their absence. The more benefits they see, the longer the migration process will continue within these families. These benefits then lead Mines and Massey (1985) to find a correlation between the increased numbers of trips made in direct relation to the changing goals of migrants. Therefore the migration process changes as the goals of the migrants change. Initially they move to obtain money that will provide immediate relief to their economic situation at home. They then begin to enjoy the improved living standards and benefits that the migradollars provide to the families in their place of origin. These remittances not only help the family but the community as well when the family members utilize the money at local businesses thus helping boost the Mexican economy.

Migradollars are not only important to the families but to the local community and country as well. Migradollars help improve the quality of living for the families. Banco de Mexico calculated that Mexican migrants working in the U.S. sent to Mexico US$6.5billion dollars in 2000 and an estimated 10billion dollars in 2001. In October 2001, the remittances had already been calculated at US$8billion (SourceMex 2001). The September 11, 2001 terrorists attacks slowed remittances down in the fourth quarter as many migrants became unemployed in the service related sectors. The amounts that each person sends back home will be different depending on their number of trips, line of work, expenses incurred for travel and living expenses, and wages in their particular sector. Authors Verduzco and Unger (1998) remind us that not all migrants are capable of sending money to family members. For this reason, the money that the families receive is not always guaranteed. Families will make the best they can with what money they receive. For example, many long time researchers of migratory issues such as Juan Luis Orozco in 1992 calculated that remittances in particular towns as having reached $86,464 or 13% of total community income but some towns had as much as 28.4% of total income and some as low as 4.3% (Verduzco and Unger 1998, 416). These numbers will vary according to the migration patterns of that community. Despite the fact that migradollars are not always guaranteed, many communities have become dependent on migradollars. as they see a decrease of work in the agricultural sector.

The benefit seen in communities are many. The local people experience an increase in wages when compared to wages in other Mexican communities. In addition standards of living increase. People now have access to products (i.e. medicine, food, etc.) and services (i.e. health, electricity, education, housing, etc.) that they previously did not have or were limited. Also, the money received has helped locals open their own businesses such as grocery shops, tortillerias, furniture stores, beauty salons, small boutiques, crafts shops, etc. Money sent to the families have helped contribute to new or improved technology in the community that could be used in agriculture resulting in improved business for the area. When the community benefits from the technology, even non-migrant families living standards improve. As a result, many migrants reduce migrating or no longer migrate at all as the local community provides the economic benefits they had sought by migrating to the U.S.

 

EVOLVING PROCESS

The process of migration from Mexico to the U.S. has evolved from the early 1900s to present day. In the beginning, guest worker programs between the U.S. and Mexico were created with only Mexican men in mind. The U.S. primarily needed men to work the railroad and agricultural fields, work that was considered too grueling for women. Women’s responsibility was centered on rearing and educating the children. For this reason, it was the male who worked to provide financial support and the women were left behind to run the household and family.

The process of migration consists of two systems: temporary and permanent. Sociologists Bryan Roberts and Reanne Franks (1999.) describe temporary migration as a system "on a structure of economic opportunities in the place of origin that, while insufficient for the full subsistence of a household, can maintain a family provided one or more members of the household become labor migrants" while the permanent system is defined as one that "lacks economic opportunities in the place of origin" yet has the "attraction of permanent work opportunities in the place of destination" (Roberts and Frank 1999, 243).

Migration is described by many researchers as a dynamic process because of its ability to evolve over time into a complex process not easily dissolvable. We see the shift of temporary migration into permanent migration. The shift is affected by the factors of both countries. In the Factors that Influence Migration these factors are divided into three categories: demand-pull factors, supply push factors and network factors. The U.S. serves as the demand-pull factor with its initiation of guest worker programs. The U.S. continues to be a demand factor since immigrants can still find employment in high turn over industries such as farming, manufacturing, meat packing industries, construction, and service jobs in places all over the country (Latapi et al. 1998, 166). As the U.S. economy grows, it provides demand-pull factors in new or growing sectors in which migrants may become employed. The supply push factors in Mexico have consistently been lower wages. It is more beneficial for migrants to move to new sectors and earn more money than if they returned to Mexico. As migrants begin to move into better paying jobs resulting in better living conditions in the U.S., they soon choose to live permanently in the U.S. Here we see the network factors in which the now permanent migrant serves as a connection for other migrants into the United States.

Traditionally migrants have tended to originate from Mexican rural areas. Migratory activity levels in Mexico are at 62%. Of these, the primary states of origin are Jalisco, Michoacan, Zacatecas, Durango, and Oaxaca. Mexican south-western states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatan and Quintana Roo have 66.5% of no participation in migrant flows, central states Oaxaca, Veracruz, Guerrero, Puebla, Tlaxcala, Hidalgo, Queretaro, Mexico, Morelos have 33.8% that do not participate and in the border states there is only a 10.2% that do not participate in the migratory flows (Verduzco and Unger 1998, 403). However, in the past two to three decades we have seen a change from the traditionally unskilled and less educated migrants to urban, educated, skilled, professionals. NAFTA has helped with the change in migratory patterns. The process will continue to evolve as Mexico gains equality with Canada in NAFTA. It is estimated that NAFTA will permit an increase of professional migrants from Mexico by the year 2003.

Agricultural laborers in the U.S. as well as in Mexico have been primarily male. The Bracero Accord was geared toward recruited men. Mexican men had to leave their spouses and family behind because the U.S. did not provide the opportunities for family migrants. Women did not travel with their migrant husbands because has been the women’s responsibility to keep maintenance of the home and provide care and education for of the children. It was acceptable that the male left his family for short or long periods of time in order to provide income but not very well accepted that women leave their families to provide income. In the 1970s, migratory flow patterns reflected an increase in women migrating. It was especially so with the passing of the 1986 IRCA. IRCA provided for family reunification for wives and children.

More recently, studies have begun to emerge regarding the gender difference and its impact on migration. In Latin America, "gender socialization" is instilled at a young age with mothers teaching their young girls household chores and fathers teaching their young boys the hard work of the fields, cattle raising, construction, etc. (Kanaiaupuni 2000). Researchers of gender differences in migration, often see the reflection of this attitude in their interviews with men and women. Interviews reflect the attitude that the men are who provide for the family. This then reveals that married men are more likely to migrate than single men and even more likely for married couples as the family begins to grow. When women do migrate, they usually migrate only when accompanied by a husband or other male family member. The fact that men migrate more than women occurs because of the traditional role of the woman, the demands of children and their restriction on mobility, and raising a family was cheaper in Mexico than in the United States (Kanaiaupuni 2000). Looking at the evidence provided by the Mexican Migration Project of 1999 data of 43 Mexican villages, out of a total of 3,089 women with migrant partners, 2,278 (74%) had never migrated compared to the next highest number of 235 women that had migrated one to five years after their partners had. Only 93 women were migrant women with non-immigrant partners (Kanaiaupuni 2000).

In addition to IRCA, the increased demand for women in manufacturing sectors is another factor that has encouraged women to migrate. Women could now find employment in areas other than house cleaning and babysitting. Despite the increase of women in the migrating process, they still do not have a significant impact on economic factors of migration because they usually migrate and work to provide as secondary earners in times of financial need (Kanaiaupuni 2000).

IMMIGRATION AND REFORM ACT (IRCA)

These changes in the migration process not only affected by the changing factors in individuals or in their country of origin but also by immigration legislation. A correlation can be found between immigration policies and demographic factors (Sierra et al. 2000,535). For instance when quotas to nationality and origin are eliminated with amendments to the Immigration and Naturalization Act then the U.S. sees an increase in immigration requests for visas.

In 1986, the U.S. enacted the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) as an immigration legislation that would control the ever-growing number of illegal immigrants entering the country especially from Mexico. IRCA of 1986 would legalize undocumented migrants who had entered the U.S. before January 1, 1982 and provide amnesty for those that had worked ninety days in agriculture in the year preceding May 1986.

Through IRCA, employers were not allowed to hire undocumented immigrants. Doing so would result in penalties for non-compliance. Government officials believed that once illegal immigrants realized that they were unable to obtain employment due to their illegal status, they would no longer immigrate thus reducing the high number of illegal immigrants into the United States.

Many wonder whether IRCA was really effective in reducing the number of undocumented individuals entering the United States in search of employment. Studies tend to argue that IRCA only increased illegal immigration to the United States.. Statistics by the U.S. Census and the INS do not reflect a decrease. Despite IRCA, agricultural employers continued to hire illegal immigrants even after November 6, 1986. They desperately needed the help on the fields while paying for cheap labor.

IRCA failed because employers did not want to comply with the IRCA requirements. Requirements were time consuming and not cost effective. For example, IRCA requires that employers complete and retain an I-9 (employment eligibility verification form) for every new worker accompanied by appropriate identification documents. Social security cards could also be requested for tax purposes and would require verification for which more paper work would have to be completed. The agribusiness employers found verifying the authenticity of documents a waste of time. In addition, many employer knew that most provided by workers would be valid for work but nor necessarily belonging to the person applying for the job.

H2A

In addition to immigration legislature, the U.S. government attempted to control illegal migration while helping U.S. agricultural sector through the H2A Temporary Foreign Worker Program. In addition, the H-2A was suppose to serve two purposes: 1) to assure agricultural employers of an adequate labor force 2) it would protect the jobs and wages of U.S. workers. Evidence of lacking U.S. workers must first be provided in order to receive H-2A authorization. Once it is granted, the employer must file for visa petitions with the INS for the admittance of workers into the United States. H-2A conditions included providing free and approved housing to workers who are not able to return to their homes on the same day. Provide three meals a day or free and convenient cooking and kitchen facilities to prepare own meals, responsible for transportation of workers, provide worker’s compensation insurance, supply tools and necessary supplies for the work, among other conditions (USDA 2001). Here is no evidence that these programs have realistically reduced illegal migration.

EFFECTS OF IMMIGRATION LEGISLATION

Have U.S. intentions, with restrictive immigration policies and special operations really helped reduce legal or illegal migration flows? Lindsay Lowell, Jay Teachman and Zhongren Jing (1995) address this question in their paper Unintended Consequences of Immigration Reform: Discrimination and Hispanic Employment. They analyze IRCA which "makes it unlawful to knowingly hire any person who cannot demonstrate authorization to work in the U.S. and imposes sanction for either record keeping or hiring violation by an employer" (Lowell et al. 1995, 617). They believe that employers would discriminate against foreign appearing individuals because of IRCA provisions. Employers discriminate to avoid paying hefty penalties for hiring people unauthorized to work. Employers need the workers and find all the paperwork and record keeping inconvenient therefore opting to not hire individuals that do not seem authorized to legally work in the United States. The discriminating characteristics or "signals" may be based upon the persons "speech or ethnicity" (Lowell et al. 1995, 619). A study performed by the General Accounting Office (GAO) in 1989 after concerns of "widespread or increased discrimination" found that it "is more reasonable to conclude that a substantial amount of discriminatory practices resulted from IRCA rather than not" (Lowel et al. 1995, 618). However the GAO 1990 results are said to "not demonstrate concrete instances of IRCA related discrimination" according to the Congressional hearings (Lowel et al. 1995, 618). Lowell and co-authors admit that proving that IRCA has increased or caused discrimination is difficult to ascertain. However, according to the GAO report, they found that "Hispanics were three times as likely as Anglos to be treated unfavorably and received 48% fewer job offer than similarly qualified Anglos" based upon hiring audit comparisons (Lowell et al. 1995, 618-619). In addition to the hiring discrimination Lowell, Teachman, and Jing point out that wages of unauthorized working migrants as well as average wage of all workers have lowered. Migrants have also experienced a "deterioration" in working conditions since the passing of IRCA based upon the study by Katherine Donato, Jorge Duran, and Douglass Massey (2000). In addition, IRCA has had other negative effects on migrants such as in increasing their job search time resulting in longer unemployment time thus making it difficult to pay for essential necessities like food, healthcare, housing, clothes etc.

Many studies have shown that IRCA has not been effective in reducing the flow of unauthorized individuals entering the U.S. from Mexico. Migration flows have not stopped or significantly decreased for two main reasons. First, migration has become a social process. Secondly, conditions in the country of origin are not favorable enough to deter migrants from taking dangerous risks in crossing the border illegally or in many cases having to live through much difficult time in the U.S. due to language barriers, culture barriers, loneliness, discrimination, and lack of work or educational skills. IRCA has not only caused headaches to employers as well as illegal working migrants but also affected employees who seek legal work but are discriminated against for not appearing to be legal. Overall this process only reduces wages and benefits that legal and illegal workers receive.

CURRENT MEXICAN AND U.S. IMMIGRATION ISSUES

In December 2001, U.S. company Tyson Foods Inc. was indicted of recruiting illegal workers from Mexico to work in their poultry processing plants in order to cut costs and maximize profits. Workers would be recruited just inside the U.S. border by smugglers who were paid $100 to $200 USD per worker in addition to the fee they received from the migrants (Migration News 2000). U.S. companies such as Tyson and other sectors are encouraging illegal migration. The more the companies or sectors encourage it, the more motivated the coyotes or smugglers will be in recruiting Mexicans for work. In the end, it is the migrants who lose. They loose the little money they have when paying the coyotes and take risks with their own lives every time they illegally cross the border.

It seems that the change in political parties in Mexico to PAN (National Action Party) with its new President Vicente Fox will be positive for legal and illegal migrant issues. It is because of Tyson type incidents and the number of migrant deaths that motivates President Fox to keep an attitude of openness in regards to the United States. He is determined to be an advocate for migrants and continue to end once and for all the "no policy" policy that President Zedillo attempted to do as well. Prior to the September 2001 attacks on the U.S., Mexico and the United States had been in "openness of borders" talks with issues of immigrants and job opportunities, training, safety, human rights, and guest worker program opportunities. The economic situation in Mexico has been improving overall but especially in the past couple of years. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in 2000 Mexico paid a 1995 IMF bailout debt that was not scheduled to be completely repaid for another couple of years. This was a significant event in that it ended "a difficult chapter in the country’s history" (IMF 2000).

The unfortunate terrorists attack on the U.S. in 2001 has not only affected the U.S. but its Mexican close neighbor. The attacks may affect public opinion’s view when Mexico and U.S. reinitiate talks. President Fox has hopes that Mexico and the U.S. can negotiate a bilateral agreement on two main issues concerning Mexican immigrants: temporary labor program that would permit Mexicans to work legally in the United States and "regularization of status" for illegal Mexicans currently in the U.S. (Martin and Teitelbaum 2001, 117). However, American citizens may not favor the entrance of workers because of the high unemployment rate, recession, and fear of individuals entering the country to harm.

Present and future guest worker programs have been criticized because of guest worker programs history. They have received negative criticism because of their inability to function as planned, for lacking control mechanisms to control illegal migration, and for servicing as a motivating factor for migrants to become permanent residents of the U.S. instead of temporary workers. President Bush believes that his administration can learn from past mistakes and find a solution to the problem. He has experience with migrant issues as governor of the state of Texas. He knows the problems that migrants face and knows the effects of migrants on the nation’s economy. Fox wants to improve migrants situations by negotiating over border safety, guest worker program, increased number of permanent visas, and regularization of illegal Mexican immigrants currently in the U.S by granting them access to important things like health services, education and labor rights, housing, and driver licenses (Leiken 2001,99).

Prior to September, preliminary agreements had been reached in August 2001 to allow guest workers in the U.S. for job vacancies in agriculture, hospitably, and food service. Migrants would then "earn" their permanent legal status by proving their work history, living history, and tax paying history while in the United States (Martin and Teitelbaum 2001, 118) According to Martin and Teitelbaum (2001), the "win-win" situation that the Fox and Bush administration envision in regards to the guest worker program would not really be "win-win". It would not be "win-win" because the temporary guest worker programs would never been "temporary" mainly because of the dependence that is created between employers and migrant. "Employers naturally grow to depend on the supply of low wage and complaint labor, relaxing their domestic recruitment efforts and adjusting their production methods to take advantage of the cheap labor." (Martin and Teitelbaum 2001, 119). In turn, the migrants grow to depend on the much higher income in the U.S. even at minimum wage. It is much more than what they would have received in their country of origin. Their families come to depend on the money sent to them providing educational and business opportunities.

Critics of guest worker programs have always emphasized the impact these types of programs have on the U.S. They worry that more migrants would mean more spending on educational and health services. They remind the readers of the economic consequences guest worker programs on the productivity and growth of the U.S. and its working citizens.

Martin and Teitelbaum (2001) in The Mirage of Mexican Guest Workers point out that guest worker programs have not really worked in the past. The problem is not only with Mexican guest worker programs but also with guest worker programs with other countries. For example, in the 1960s Germany recruited temporary guest workers from Italy, Yugoslavia and Turkey. By 1970 Germany was employing 2.6million guest workers. Public opinion criticism and the oil shocks of the 1970s that caused high unemployment led to the end of the program. Because returning to their countries of origin meant returning to a worse economic situation than in Germany, many of the guest workers become permanent immigrants. Because of the now overpopulated country and inability to provide work for all individuals, the problems continue for the second and third generations of 1960 guest workers. They are finding it difficult to obtain employment and are still considered foreigners. Politically, the effects of the guest worker program has affected the manner in which foreign policy is handled. Germany may be more likely to reject countries seeking entry to the European Union if that country has a labor surplus. Germany is afraid that they will receive a significant amount of those in search of jobs and worsen the existing economic and social problems. (Martin and Teitelbaum 2001, 124-126).

RECOMMENDATIONS

The issue of legal and illegal migration is an issue in which sending and receiving countries must share responsibility and cooperatively work together to find an agreeable solution to the problem. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CIEP) and the Instituto Tecnologico Autonomo de Mexico (ITAM) have worked together to write Mexico-U.S. Migration: A Shared Responsibility. In this paper, a U.S. and Mexican panel noted that the simultaneous inauguration of Presidents Fox and Bush is important to new negotiations. In addition, the environment or conditions that they have entered are important and vital because they are not "constrained by the policies of the predecessor" due to being of different political parties than the previous president and because both presidents were governors of border states or states "shaped by migration" (CIEP and ITAM 2001, 5) The mood set by these conditions is vital so that the presidents may "recalibrate the relations between the two countries within the framework of the economic bond institutionalized by the North American Free Trade" (CIEP and ITAM 2001, 5).

The CIEP and ITAM paper gives President Fox and Bush important recommendations based on the U.S. and Mexican panels. They relate that it is these negotiations are vital to both countries because the unresolved migration issues places a "strain" on the "positive progress to date on economic integration" (CIEP and ITAM 2001, 7). The circumstances are ideal in order to create a "NAFTA plus". To do so would require that the issue of migration be addressed so that both countries can become fully economically integrated. CIEP and ITAM have new agenda objectives for Mexico and U.S., recommendations for key points in these new negotiations, and more specific overall negotiation key points.

 

 

 

 

 

Some of these include:

New Agenda Objectives

  • Improved treatment of Mexican migrants by making visas and legal status more widely available

  • Helping to reduce unauthorized migration by cooperatively cracking down on criminal smuggling organizations and saving lives by preventing dangerous border crossings.
  • Jointly building a viable border region
  • Targeting development initiative to regions with high rates of emigration and strengthening the Mexican economy over time, thereby reducing pressures.
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    Key Points of Negotiation

    • Make legal status more widely available for established, employed and taxpaying immigrants by following on Congressional action in recent years.

  • Expand permanent family visas for Mexico
  • Make work visas more widely available.
  • Commit law enforcement on both sides of the border to protect migrant human rights and strengthen cooperation against criminal smuggling networks
  • Sign a bilateral social security totalization agreement.
  • Overall Negotiations for Mexico and U.S.

    • Equality with Canada in NAFTA
  • Expanding the professional occupations list from all NAFTA countries
  • Offering employment rights to spouses of NAFTA professionals
  • Pursuing joint priorities cooperatively in:
    • Addressing smuggling assisted entries of Mexicans
    • Convert unauthorized workers into legal temporary workers and provide mechanisms for those who can meet reasonable criteria to earn legal permanent residence status if they wish to do so
    • Respect the human and labor market rights of Mexicans and other foreign nationals
    • Negotiate a temporary labor program

    Source: CIEP and ITAM 1998

     

     

     

     

    CONCLUSION

    Negotiations over bilateral issues such as migration have been postponed as the U.S. concentrates on its war on terrorism. We will have to wait and see where the U.S. economy stands when the war on terrorism is over and migration bilateral talks resume. The unemployment rate in the U.S. is currently at 5.8% (Department of Labor 2002). Bilateral migration issues may receive a negative public opinion if the U.S. economy does not improve and unemployment rates are high. It is vital that conditions are perfect in order to avoid situations as occurred during the Great Depression and Operation Wetback. Studies have determined that citizens own financial and economic situations influence their opinion on issue of migration and can influence their feeling about immigrants (i.e. xenophobia, discrimination..etc.)

    As the American population becomes more educated, they are less willing to work in low paying jobs such as agriculture, manufacturing or other service sector positions. It is the migrants that are willing to work in these low paying jobs with minimum or no benefits. Even as the Mexican economy is improving and the Mexican government introduces programs to educate their citizens and employ citizens, Mexico remains a labor surplus nation. Mexico still has a long way to go in improving wages, working conditions, and benefits for its citizen. Therefore, legal migrants are willing to leave their families behind for work in the U.S. and illegal migrants are willing to take higher risks to obtain employment in the United States. Both legal and illegal wish to improve their opportunities and living standards.

    Politicians in Mexico and the United States face a difficult decision when it comes to migration. Many critics of migration issues believe that President Fox and Bush administrations proposals for immigration do not solve the migration problems. They believe that more guest worker programs will only increase illegal migration and place a bigger burden on the United States society to provide more funding for educational and health services that these new migrants will need and cannot afford to pay. Government officials in Mexico and the United States must understand that migration is a social process that cannot be turned off and on like a light switch. Both countries must take responsibility for the process that was begun in the 1900s.

    No longer will Mexico have a "no policy" policy and no longer can the U.S. expect for make unilateral decisions on issues that affect both countries. Both countries have determined that migration issues are a priority even though each comes to the table with different reasons for negotiating. Mexico wishes to improve conditions for Mexican migrants while the United States wish to control illegal migration and provide labor for needing sectors.

    Through this paper we can see how social, economic, and political factors explain the process of Mexican migration patterns to the United States from the early 1900s to the present. Legal and illegal migration continues to be an issue of priority to the Mexico and the United States. Mexico and the U.S. must negotiate bilateral agreements that will benefit all involved. It is vital that both countries come to an agreement because of their close proximity in addition to being members of NAFTA. Complete integration of both countries will not occur unless both countries cooperatively address migration issues.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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