Illegal Aliens - Mexico's Unique Relationship With Theunited States
united mexican guide immigration
In no other place in the world does a nation as wealthy as the United States share a border with a nation as poor as Mexico. Huge disparities exist between the rich and poor people of Mexico, so it is understandable that Mexico's poor are attracted to the United States.
An Open Border
Before the twentieth century, Mexicans moved easily back and forth across completely open borders to work in the mines, on the ranches, and on the railroad. While fewer than 1,000 Mexicans immigrated between 1891 and 1900, almost 50,000 came during the period 1901 to 1910. The flow from Mexico soared to almost 220,000 between 1911 and 1921 and reached nearly 460,000 between 1921 and 1930. (See Table 1.1 in Chapter 1.)
This increase in Mexican immigration occurred even as overall immigration declined because of the growing tension in Europe that led to World War I (1914–18). It was fueled by the growing need for labor as America prepared to supply its allies and sent many thousands of its young men off to Europe to fight. While legal immigration rose after the war, a large amount of illegal immigration also occurred. Some historians estimated that during the 1920s there might have been more illegal Mexican aliens than legal immigrants. The need for Mexican labor was so great that in 1918 the commissioner-general of immigration exempted Mexicans from meeting most immigration conditions, such as head taxes (small amounts paid to come into the country) and literacy requirements.
The First Illegal Alien "Problem"
The increase in the number of illegal aliens from Mexico led to the creation of the U.S. Border Patrol in 1924. The United States had maintained a small force of mounted guards to deter alien smuggling, but this force was inadequate to stop large numbers of illegal aliens. The efforts of the Border Patrol contributed to a sharp increase in the number of aliens deported during the 1920s and 1930s.
In 1929 administrative control along the Mexican border was significantly tightened as the Great Depression led many Americans to blame the nation's unemployment on the illegal aliens. Consequently, thousands of Mexicans—both legal immigrants and illegal aliens—were repatriated (sent back to Mexico). According to the 1940 U.S. Census Report, the Mexican-born population in the United States declined from 639,000 in 1930 to 377,000 in 1940.
The Bracero Program (1942 to 1964)
World War II (1941–45) brought the country out of the Great Depression. Industry expanded and drew rural laborers into the cities. Other workers were drafted and went off to war. Once more, the United States needed laborers, especially farm workers, and the nation again turned to Mexico. The Bracero Program was a negotiated treaty between Mexico and the United States, permitting the entry of Mexican farm workers on a temporary basis under contract to U.S. employers. (The term bracero literally meant a pair of arms, or brazos; in this case, it signified a laborer.) The entire program lasted 22 years and involved approximately 4.8 million Mexican workers (Handbook of Texas Online, http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/view/BB/omb1.html).
The Bracero Program, however, did not end illegal immigration but further contributed to its increase. Many Mexicans became accustomed to working in the United States and earning higher wages than they could get in Mexico. They told friends and relatives that while conditions were not always satisfactory, the pay was better than in Mexico.
Between 1942 and 1949 American employers deducted 10% from the braceros weekly wages for a savings plan. The U.S. government transferred the money to banks in Mexico. It was estimated that, with interest, the aggregate savings accounts should have yielded $500 million or more. However, when the braceros went back to their country, no money could be found. In April 2001 a group of former braceros filed a class-action lawsuit seeking reparations for the money deducted from their salaries (Senorino Ramirez Cruz, et al., v. United States of America [C-01-0892]). In August 2002, Federal District Judge Charles R. Brever dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that the government-owned Mexican banks could not be sued and the statute of limitations permitting claims against the U.S. government had expired. His ruling stated that he did "not doubt that many braceros never received Savings Fund withholdings to which they were entitled."
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
In December 1993 the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA; PL 103-182) was passed to eliminate trade and investment barriers among the United States, Canada, and Mexico over a fifteen-year period. NAFTA was intended to promote economic growth in each country so that, in the long run, the number of illegal immigrants seeking to enter the United States for work would diminish. One of NAFTA's provisions facilitated temporary entry on a reciprocal basis among the three countries. It established procedures for Canadian and Mexican citizens who were professional business-people to temporarily enter the United States to render services for pay. President Clinton claimed that more jobs on both sides of the southwest border meant more income for Mexican nationals, which would help reduce the number of undocumented aliens entering the United States.
K. Larry Storrs reported in Mexico–U.S. Relations: Issues for the 107th Congress (Washington, DC: The Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, May 4, 2001) that total U.S. trade with Mexico grew from $100 billion to $248 billion between 1994 and 2000. However, due partly to the devaluation of the peso (the unit of Mexican currency) in 1994, the U.S. trade balance with Mexico had gone from a surplus of $1.3 billion in 1994 to a deficit of $24.2 billion in 2000. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, however, by 2001 the United States had an agricultural trade surplus with Mexico of $2.1 billion.
A Guide for the Illegal Migrant
In the January 9, 2005, article, "A Guide for the Illegal Migrant," in the New York Times, James C. McKinley Jr. reported that the Mexican government had published and distributed a thirty-one page guide to assist illegal migrants in entering the United States. Members of the U.S. Congress protested what they saw as "blatantly encourage[ing] people to break United States law." Mexican officials compared the pamphlet to providing information about AIDS to illegal drug users. They argued that the document was intended to save lives by warning Mexican people of the dangers of illegal border crossing. The New York Times reproduced translated excerpts from the guide. While outlining the legal methods of gaining entry into the United States and noting the hazards of illegal entry, the guide listed the migrant's rights once inside the United States and offered tips on how to avoid being discovered after successful illegal entry. In a January 5, 2005, story entitled "Mexico Issues Illustrated Migrant Guide," the Associated Press reported that 1.5 million copies of the guide had been distributed in December 2004. Despite U.S. protests, Mexico's Secretariat of Foreign Relations announced on January 22, 2005, that Mexico would reprint the guide
and continue distribution (Natalia Gomez, "Mexican Government to Reprint Migrant Guide," El Universal, January 22, 2005).