Why do Mexicans and Other Latin Americans Come Into the U.S. Illegally?

Questions: Why do Mexicans and other Latin Americans come into the U.S. illegally. Why don’t they want to obey the law the same way my ancestors did?

Answer: Thank you for this question. This is a question that sometimes pops up when I attend political events and you’ll see Republicans bring this up in the news as well. I think for many people, Trump fans for example, it tends to be an insincere question. They really don’t really care if they come here legally or not, they just don’t want Mexicans here at all. Remember the Trump supporter at a recent Trump press conference? The infamous press conference where Trump kicked out Jorge Ramos? The Trump supporter told Jorge Ramos of Univision, an American citizen, to “get out of my country.” Ramos informed him he was an American citizen. The supporter replied with “Well, whatever. Univision-whatever. It’s not about you” Do you think that ignorant Trump supporter really cares how Jorge Ramos arrived in the U.S. Do you think that supporter really cares if Ramos is actually an American citizen?

But to answer your question, it’s very simple, immigrants from south of the border who come here illegally are coming here illegally because they are effectively prevented from obtaining a visa. For instance, in order to get a tourist visa you need to show Immigration that you have 25,000 to 50,000 dollars in your bank account, a good job, wife and children back home, a family you intend to return to. This information convinces the officer your real intent is to visit the U.S. for a short time and then leave. Most Mexicans and other Latin Americans are poor, hungry, and looking for work so by default they cannot meet the criteria and they are almost always denied a visa.

seasonal workers from mexico

Seasonal Workers from Mexico topping sugar beets near Stockton, California in 1943

Now, looking back at history, the Naturalization Act of 1790 restricted citizenship to “any alien, being a free white person” who had been in the U.S. for two years. The Act didn’t mention indentured servants, slaves, and most women. And in the latter half of the 19th century the U.S. Congress went out of its way to ban Asians with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Furthermore, it’s important to note that the southwestern United States was once the territory of Mexico. The United States conquered the territory in a war with Mexico in 1848. There wasn’t any illegal immigration before that time from Mexico because Mexicans were already here! Thereafter, the migration that took place between Mexico and the United States tended to be seasonal. Mexicans would work for part of the year in the United States and then return to Mexico. Because the migration between Mexico and the U.S. was seasonal there wasn’t ever the need on the part of the U.S. government to institute laws preventing immigration. It just wasn’t as much an issue as say Asian immigrants who were coming over to the U.S. in vast numbers during the 19th century to work and not returning home.


Seasonal Agricultural Laborers Arriving in the United States from
Mexico by Train in 1943

However, it’s very likely that if Mexicans and other Latin Americans had wanted to immigrate to the United States in any significant amount of numbers after the Mexican-American war they would have likely been rejected purely on racial grounds just as the Asians were prevented from immigrating after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Chinese Railroad Workers

This photo shows a group of Chinese coolies on a switchback on the Cascade Mountain Range, in 1886. Heavy snowfall sometimes buried tracks so deep that rotary snowplows could not operate. Then it was necessary to employ shovel gangs to clear tracks.

Ultimately, in modern times, Mexicans and other Latin Americans come here because many employers in the United States are looking for workers and are happy to find workers that just want to come and work. In the U.S. for the last 30, 50 years there was a push to educate as many as possible, most middle class Americans were encouraged to obtain a college education and learned how to do hard, technical things, with their minds. Now, they don’t want to send their kids to work in the field, cutting grass, or any other sort of dirty, yet necessary jobs. But most immigrants don’t seem to care or they’re willing to do that based on their economic circumstances. But, I will agree with those who say foreigners are taking away jobs from Americans. However, they’re not doing it in the United States. They’re taking away American jobs in the factories in China, Thailand, Pakistan and India where the price to manufacture goods in those countries is far, far less than price in the United States. The average Chinese worker is making 300 dollars a month. I have to agree with people like Lou Dobbs or Donald Trump on that point. All these American companies are selling us out by outsourcing jobs overseas because they can make everything at a fraction of the cost compared to the cost in the United States. Unfortunately, many middle-class Americans have lost their jobs as a result of this policy, but that’s not the fault of immigrant Mexican workers. Whether you’re a Republican, or a union worker, you’re blaming the wrong people when you point to Mexicans and Latin Americans. The real cause of our plight is the fact that the corporate and political leadership of the United States has a long-standing policy of outsourcing our jobs to foreign factories which employ workers willing to work at a much lower cost. They are doing more harm to the job prospects of Americans than any landscaper or dishwasher from Mexico.

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