Immigration - A Brief History

Jesus replied, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:38-39)

Today, more than 52 million Hispanics live in the United States, making up 17% of this country's population. Yet as late as 1960, fewer than 6 million Hispanics lived within U.S. borders, or less than 4% of the population. The first influx of Mexican immigrants began around 1848, at the end of the Mexican-American war, when Mexico ceded a large section of its territory to the United States. The next surge in Mexican migration came in the late 1800's and early 1900's as the demand for labor rose in the American West, followed by the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in 1910. After a brief reversal in migration trends during the Great Depression, when hundreds of thousands of Mexicans were forced to leave the U.S., migration resumed thanks to World War II and the creation of a guest worker program. Thousands of other Hispanics immigrated illegally during this time, finding jobs with employers who were more than willing to bypass the government program's red tape and higher costs.

More recently, Hispanic migration to the United States has been influenced by a series of shifts in economic and immigration policies. As immigration laws continued to further restrict the number of available visas, and economic crises erupted in Mexico and other parts of Latin America, immigration began to transform from an option to a necessity. At the same time, the U.S. economy continued to depend on both legal and illegal immigration as sources of labor. In 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was ratified, a move that was intended to bring about the creation of a Mexican middle class. Instead, NAFTA led to the outsourcing of U.S. jobs to Mexico, where companies paid much lower wages to Mexican workers than their U.S. counterparts, and Mexican migration to the United States continued unabated.

Historical research from the American Latino Theme Study, The Making of America, by the National Park Service,