Looking back in the United States’ history on the issue of immigration, the first immigrants came into the country starting in 1820. By 1920, there were close to 30 million foreigners in the country. With the presence of the immigrants came an undeniable force that played a significant role in the industrialization era. However, with the great supplied labor, the company of the immigrants became the cause of the sharp divisions over the foreign immigrant impact and their character.
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To date, the majority of the debates associated with the presence of migrants, especially the Latinos, reflect a century’s old argument that caused the sharp divisions on the need to have migrants in the country. Throughout the 20th century, immigrants in the U.S. have been influenced by economic and political circumstances ranging from 1860 to 2007. The report gives an account of the push and pulls factors responsible for driving migrants from Mexico and Central America and why these foreigners are enormous in the United States.
The majority of the native-born U.S. residents are enraged by how the illegal immigrants from the south compete with them for employment opportunities. Additionally, the natives fear that dues to the illegal immigrants, they are encountering unfair government benefits and how through them, the social fabric in the country is being altered (West 1). Among the reasons the native-born Americans are anxious about the presence of illegal immigrants in their country are group animus and ethnocentrism. Throughout humanity, it has been established that people tend to dislike those among them that act, behave, or look differently (Bernat 2). With the group divisions brought about by the dislike, the distinctions among people make them embrace the ‘us versus them’ mentality resulting in difficulty to establish a balance between them.
Another faction of native-born citizens is concerned with the presence of immigrants due to material cost perception associated with their company in the country. Borrowing from Gary Freeman, West (1) shows these Native Americans fear their public resources are being drained and they have to work on depressed wages. At the same time, the benefits accrue to the small successful immigrant groups that get good jobs. Both issues by the natives become why the American political system can’t resolve some of the challenges associated with the immigrants in the country. Regardless of the faction, the majority, if not all native-born Americans, are seeing their fear becoming real with the social undocumented arrival costs of the migrants being enormous. Most of the undeserved benefits, meant for the natives, are being given to the migrants (West 2).
Natives fear that employment positions meant for them or the reduced wage gains are being given to the immigrants through increased job competition (West 12). With these being the basis of the complaints, immigration will never cease to be controversial, and the majority of the natives will favor punitive policies. At the same time, political leaders will never successfully address the issue of immigration.
Harvest of Empire: The Untold Story of Latinos in America, Juan Gonzalez brings out an unflinching perspective on the role of the U.S. military and the economic interests that caused the unprecedented migration wave. The considerable number of immigrants, who are transforming the U.S. economy and culture, can be attributed to the territorial expansion wars by the U.S. to control Cuba, Puerto Rico, and nearly half of Mexico. Moreover, U.S. military covert-based operations used to impose oppressive military regimes in El Salvador, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua triggered the high immigrants’ number moving north (Harvest Of Empire n.p.).
Based on her realization of the role played by the U.S. military and economic interests, Juan says the following at the start of the film. Looking at the issue of immigration, “They never teach us in school that the huge Latino presence here is a direct result of our own government’s action in Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America over many decades, actions that forced millions from that region to leave their homeland and journey north” (Harvest Of Empire 3:52). Violence from U.S. military operations forced many to flee violence seeking safety.
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The initial substantial postwar Mexican migration to the U.S. took place in the 1910s when the then government sought to exclude the Asians from the country resulting in labor shortages. Bender (49) shows the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920, alongside meatpacking, agriculture, mining, railroads, and steel mills near Chicago, drew many Mexicans to the U.S. In theory, Canadians, Mexicans, and Latin Americans could migrate to the U.S. searching for employment opportunities in the absence of numerical limitations.
However, Bender (50) shows the Mexican immigrant was strategically exploited by the U.S. government, manipulated, and tightly controlled. Through the raft of administrative restrictions founded on discrimination, regulators were able to turn on or off the Mexican immigrants based on the prevailing labor needs and the economic conditions in the U.S. The fact that it was easier to deport a Mexican across the border made it possible for the legislatures to turn on and off these immigrants compared to Europeans who would have to be deported across the globe.
The Immigration Act of 1917 and the federal immigration laws restricted the admission of Mexican immigrants to those that were likely to be social service reliant. As Bender (50) shows, the move was to ensure the exclusion manipulated Mexicans based on the labor needs. Between 1929 and 1939, the Great Depression was a significant reason why Mexicans were aggressively ousted from the country. Having reduced the legal number of emigrants from 450,000 to 20,000, a majority of the immigrants were forced to enter the country illegally to fill the jobs that often beckoned or them (Bender 53). Even with the laws reducing the slots for the Mexicans, their illegal entry was enabled by the falsification of documents and the ever rising demand for low wage laborers.
However, the beginning of World War II was the beginning of the return of the Mexicans to the U.S. The labor associated with the Mexicans became essential given the understanding they filled the exploitable agricultural labor shortage. Bender (51) shows the Bracero program, a labor recruitment tool, was then quickly orchestrated by the U.S. government, and became successful in helping American employers to recruit more Mexicans into the U.S. In two decades, the program allowed more than 4.7 million Mexicans into the country, with a majority of them working in the southern agricultural industries of the nation, and they worked in twenty-six states.
The U.S. government’s approach to immigration issues, or the Northern Triangle, has varied in the past two decades. Cheatham (n.p) shows the respective U.S. governments in those two decades have been helping the Northern Triangle countries to manage the irregular flow of immigrants. Despite the intention to help combat violence and insecurity, critics show the U.S. policies have been largely reactive and have encouraged upturns in migrations to the border of Mexico and the United States.
The Northern Triangle’s economic problems are rooted in the decades of political instability, civil war, and political instability. The U.S. planted the seeds for complex criminal ecosystems that continue to plague countries from the region. The destabilization that took place in the region, to date, continue to cause women in the region to flee from the gender-based women and girls murders and the highest femicide rates. The movement of the women to the north has been associated to the rates of immigrations faced by the U.S. at its borders.
During the Barrack Obama administration, the government developed a U.S. aid program that benefitted Mexico and isolated the Merida Initiative region of the Central America portion. Through the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), the government budgeted more than $2 billion to assist the law enforcement of the region, its justice system, and counternarcotics agencies (Cheatham n.p). In conjunction with the Northern Triangle, the Obama administration deterred would-be migrants and was able to crack down on close to 3 million illegal migrants through the anti-smuggling operations.
The Trump administration saw the ramping up of border security measures as a stemming migration approach, which became a priority while preserving Obama’s framework. The implemented zero-tolerance policy became the method to prosecute every illegal migrant in the country and ended up separating thousands of children from their parents (Cheatham n.p). 2019 saw the Trump administration withhold assistance to the Northern Triangle since it was unable to curb migration.
The current administration, Joe Biden’s, has rolled back several policies implemented by the Trump administration relating to the Northern Triangle. The administration has successfully reserved temporary worker visas for Northern Triangle migrants, raised the refugee camp to over 62,000, and reinstated the Obama administration program that Trump had canceled in 2017 (Cheatham n.p).
Further, the Biden administration has canceled asylum deals with Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. At the same time, the government has sought to dispirit unbalanced immigration using messaging operations and has called on Mexican and Central American officials to interrupt migrant flows. With unaccompanied children, some adults, and families as exceptions, migrants are continuously expelled under the order from public health (Cheathamn n.p). The other approaches by the Biden administration have been the involvement by Kamala Harris on border enforcement, supporting civil society, and stimulating investments in the private sector.
The costs associated with immigrants are enormous to the government and taxpaying citizens. However, the impact that immigrants have on the economy and culture of the United States, the migrants has been a significant force that has seen the U.S. encounter positive contributions throughout the centuries. Stripping down the negative consequences attributed to migrants in the country, it is the mandate of the Latin American and U.S. governments to ensure control of the flow of immigrants.
Bender, W. Steven. Exposing Immigration Laws: The Legal Contours of Belonging and Exclusion. Chapter 2. 2018.
Bernat, Frances. “Immigration and Crime.”Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice. 2017.
Cheatham, Amelia.Central America’s Turbulent Northern Triangle. Council on Foreign Relations. 2021.
“Harvest Of Empire The Untold Story Of Latinos In America”.
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West, Darrell M. Brain Gain: Rethinking U.s. Immigration Policy. Washington, D.C: Brookings Institution Press, 2011.