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“Brave New Mundo”: How the Migration of Workers From Mexico Influenced the US


Since the beginning of Mexican migration, the attitude of American citizens and the government toward this event varied at different periods. Neil Foley discusses in the seventh chapter of Mexicans in the Making of America, titled “Brave New Mundo,” how the migration of workers from Mexico influenced the economic, political, and cultural situation in the United States. According to Foley (2014), “Latinos were the fastest-growing population and were predicted to outnumber African Americans by the turn of the century” (p. 179). Congress decided to diminish the number of illegal foreign employees in the 1980s by implementing penalties for employers who had unauthorized workers in their organizations and increased security on the U.S.-Mexican border (Foley, 2014). Some politicians were interested in allowing undocumented migrants from Mexico to stay in the U.S. for additional support during presidential elections. However, others wanted to secure borders and prevent them from entering the country to address the concerns of the white population of the United States. Although some Americans and political leaders were concerned that Mexicans could take away U.S. citizens’ jobs, the migration benefited the country because it reduced workplace accidents and Workers’ Compensation (WC) claims.

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The Beginning of the “Decade of Hispanics”

Most aliens who came to the United States from Mexico were males who sought employment, creating a significant cohort of cheap labor. The number of legal and undocumented immigrants started to rise in the 1980s, naming these years the “decade of Hispanics” (Foley, 2014). The number of Mexican aliens in the U.S. rose from 2 million in 1980 to almost 12 million in 2015, accounting for 25% of foreign-born residents (Dillender & McInerney, 2020). Since American industrial corporations and farms became interested in hiring Mexican workers in the twentieth century, about 400,000 Hispanic laborers entered the U.S. annually in the 1960s and the 1970s (Gutiérrez, 2020). This rise was attributed to the ratification of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act (Foley, 2014). This policy allowed many people from Mexico to reunite with their families and find occupation in the United States.

The rapid increase in the Hispanic population received an equivocal response from the public. On the one hand, Americans did not want competition from Mexican workers (Foley, 2014). On the other hand, foreign laborers brought particular benefits to the country’s economy and American citizens. Since Mexican immigrants took all hard-labor jobs, Americans had an incentive and opportunity to seek higher education to occupy positions that required more sophisticated training. Unfortunately, this situation was not perceived in such a favorable light by the majority of the U.S. population at that time, causing confrontations.

The Impact of Mexican Immigrant Workers on Occupational Injuries and WC Claims

The federal government feared that there would be more immigrant workers from Mexico than American industry could handle, but the appearance of Hispanics in the U.S. job market reduced occupational injuries and WC benefit claims. Since Mexicans mostly took jobs with an increased hazard to health, it led to a drop in the number of workplace injuries among U.S. citizens (Dillender & McInerney, 2020). According to Dillender and McInerney (2020), “between 1980 and 2015, the overall rate of nonfatal occupational injuries fell by over 60 percent” (p. 1). Furthermore, the overall Emergency Departments referrals related to such accidents decreased (Dillender & McInerney, 2020). However, it was probably more associated with Hispanics’ hesitancy to report injuries to their employers or physicians because many came to the U.S. illegally. Once workplace accidents dropped, WC claims, usually given to individuals injured at work, also fell by 17% (Dillender & McInerney, 2020). Because WC payments cost almost $100 million to American employers, this decrease can be viewed as a significant saving (Dillender & McInerney, 2020). Overall, despite the citizens’ concerns, Mexican immigrant workers helped improve workplace safety for Americans and reduced compensation payments.

Illegal Mexican Migrants and American Politics

Some political leaders in the United States viewed Mexican immigrants as an instrument to win elections, while others perceived them as a threat to stability. For example, President Nixon realized that Hispanics did not elicit the same degree of hostility among white voters as African Americans (Foley, 2014). Hence, he decided to gain support from Latino Americans by creating supportive regulations for immigrants. He was the first president to support bilingual education for children with limited English proficiency (Foley, 2014). However, President Carter’s viewpoint was not as optimistic as Nixon’s because the country was struggling with unemployment. Carter claimed that unauthorized workers from Mexico displaced Americans and caused outrage among the general population (Foley, 2014). President Reagan gave more freedom to “cross-border workers to provide an adequate workforce for employers,” offering amnesty for all unauthorized Mexican workers (Foley, 2014, p. 192). The “decade of Hispanics” increased the importance of Hispanics for the U.S., and specific policies demonstrated it. Still, aliens from Mexico were represented negatively by the mass media, especially when the presidency was taken by individuals with conservative viewpoints about an inflow of Mexican workers to America.

Representation of Mexican Aliens by the U.S. Media

Depending on the period in Mexican-American relations, immigrants were presented differently by the media. For instance, the Frito-Lay company created a character, “Frito Bandito,” a brave and clever Mexican man, to target Hispanic customers (Foley, 2014). However, this character and his potentially criminal origin were viewed by Latino Americans as an offense; therefore, they started to boycott the product, forcing Frito-Lay to remove “Frito Bandito” from its marketing campaign. Since the number of Mexican Americans was high, manufacturers could no longer ignore that avoidance of their products from Latino groups might damage their sales. Thus, Coors beer corporation had to hire more Hispanics and spend $9 million to create a positive advertisement to revert the nationwide boycott (Foley, 2014). Unlike firms that sold goods or services, American news media illustrated illegal workers from Mexico as a threat to the economy and political stability of the United States. In the 1970s and the 1980s, “the national print media featured articles” with such headlines as “Los Angeles swells with aliens” (Foley, 2014, p. 191). In fact, illegal migrants could not alter this representation because many Americans supported this hostility against Hispanic workers.

The Author’s Viewpoint about Illegal Migration of Hispanic Laborers

Foley’s overall perspective about illegal Mexican immigrants remained neutral to positive throughout the chapter. Foley (2014) highlighted that these newcomers from Mexico comprised a substantial portion of cheap labor for American industry. Indeed, the numbers are impressive because more than 57,000 undocumented Mexican workers come to the United States annually (Gutiérrez, 2020). The author’s writing gave the impression that illegal migration was a minor crime that outweighed the benefits that the country’s economy, politics, and culture could receive. However, Foley (2014) admitted that these advantages were not perceived optimistically by the general public. Furthermore, he narrated how people’s viewpoints were shaped by the media’s depiction of drug dealers, prostitutes, and murderers from Mexico. Hence, the nation’s hostility to aliens was employed by politicians to increase militant power on the borders in the 1990s. It seemed that Foley did not support this negative attitude and vilification of Mexican immigrant workers since it was not Mexico but the United States who annexed Texas, which was a strong point. Although this argument was not mentioned here, the author assumed that earlier chapters convinced the reader that the actions of unauthorized Mexicans were justifiable.

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This chapter in Foley’s Mexican in the Making of America discussed the role of Mexican immigrant workers in the economy, politics, and culture of the United States since the beginning of the “decade of Hispanics.” Thousands of laborers have come to the U.S. annually during the last seventy years, and many of them are undocumented. Hispanic aliens represent the large cohort of the cheap workforce, allowing American employers to have their work done with lower expenditure. Moreover, the immigration of people from Mexico positively impacted the workplace injury statistics among white Americans because many hazardous jobs were taken by aliens, who rarely report accidents due to their illegal status. Since fewer occupation incidents are reported, Workers’ Compensation saved significant capital because a reduction in injuries at work indicated fewer cash claims. Politicians like Nixon and Reagan were optimistic about these migrations, while others, like Carter and Clinton, supported the overall negative attitude toward the employment of unauthorized Hispanics. The author appears to justify illegal immigration by the advantages that the U.S. economy receives from cheap labor without referring to the U.S.-Mexican war for Texas mentioned at the beginning of the book.


Dillender, M., & McInerney, M. (2020). The role of Mexican immigration to the United States in improved workplace safety for natives from 1980 to 2015. Journal of Health Economics, 70, 1-19. Web.

Foley, N. (2014). Mexicans in the making of America. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Gutiérrez, D.G. (2020). American Latino theme study: Immigration. National Park Service. Web.

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