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History of Migration, Immigration, Transnationalism, and Political Policies in the United States: 1875-Present

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About 30,000 years ago the first migration to North America occurred when “Paleo Indians walked across a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska then migrated their way down south. This happened before the arrival of what was the earliest known culture in America, the Clovis culture, named after a town in New Mexico.” (Southern Border Reader, pg. 21) My paper will analyze the political policies towards indigenous peoples and other immigrants who migrate to the United States. I will also argue how the expansion of U.S. borders has split into generations of families because of new borders. I will also explore indigenous people’s citizenship and how the United States treats Native Americans as separate nations, and as a minority. I will also analyze how immigrants are treated because of race, culture, and color, and how United States political policies affect both Native Americans and Immigrants who cross our southern border. On September 13, 2007 the U.N. adopted the Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People’s which specifies that nation-states should accommodate spiritual, social, and cultural needs of indigenous people’s divided by an international border. On September 13, 2017 the U.N. adopted the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants which included commitments to protect Human Rights of all refugees and migrants, regardless of status. This paper will argue that these rights are challenged by domestic policies and is more often than not racialized. I will also argue that inclusion and exclusion have played a double role in American equality and oppression.

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The re-drawing of the boundary between Mexico and the United States by the passing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 which stretched from Tijuana and making San Diego part of the U.S. and stretching through Yuma, Arizona, Nogales, through New Mexico split families of indigenous peoples like the Tohono O’odham Nation of the Sonoran Desert between Arizona and Mexico. This land was known as the Papagueria and had been their home for thousands of years. From the early 18th century to the present, Tohono O’odham land has been occupied by foreign governments. With the independence of the Republic of Mexico, the Tohono fell under Mexican rule. Then through the Gadsden Purchase or the Treaty of La Mesilla of 1853, Tohono O’odham land was divided in half, between Mexico and the United States. According to the terms of the Gadsden Purchase, the U.S. agreed to honor all land rights of the area held by Mexican citizens, which included the Tohono, and the O’odham would have the same constitutional rights as any other U.S. citizen. However, because of the demand for land settlement soared with the development of mining and the railroad, the Tohono-O’odham lost land on both sides of the border.

After the Plan de Iguala, Tohono lands in Mexico diminished at an accelerated rate. In 1927 lands for Indigenous peoples were earmarked and established by Mexico. Today, the Tohono have 9 communities in Mexico that are on or near to the southern edge of the Tohono O’odham Nation and a number of these communities are separated by the U.S./Mexico border.

In the U.S., the Gadsden Purchase had a small effect on the Tohono at first because they were not told that the land had been purchased, and the new border was not strictly enforced. In recent years however the border has come to effect the Tohono in many ways, for one the immigration laws prevent the Tohono from crossing the border freely. As a matter of fact, the U.S. border has become “an artificial barrier to the freedom of the Tohono Nation… to traverse their lands, impairing their ability to collect foods and materials needed to sustain their culture and to visit family members and sacred sites.” (“History and Culture Tohono O’odham Nation”) Tohono members must provide passports and identification cards to enter the United States. On many occasions, the U.S. Border Patrol has arrested and deported members of the Tohono tribe who were simply traveling through their own lands, practicing migratory traditions vital to their religion, economy and culture. Border patrol have also confiscated cultural and religious items as feathers, pine leaves and sweet grass. The dissection of Tohono lands has divided O’odham society and have broken up 4 federally recognized tribes; the Ak-Chin Indian community, the Gila River Indian community, The Salt River (Pima Maricopa) community and the Tohono O’odham Nation. Each tribe is now politically and geographically distinct and separate.

The Fourteenth Amendment States, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” As in the case of Albert Hale, a Arizona State Representative, a member and former President of the Navajo Nation and well known as a Dine person, noted that his ancestors had been “occupiers of this land from the time immemorial,” yet his mother, who was born in 1919, was not a U.S. citizen and neither was her grandparents. The fact that U.S. citizenship was afforded by a federal statute, the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act, and not by the U.S. Constitution. My point is that Albert Hale, who is clearly the descendant of the first indigenous people of this land, could have been barred from U.S. citizenship by the Birthright Bill because his ancestors prior to 1924 were noncitizens, while the immigrants the immigrants who came to the United States and passed through Ellis Island between 1802 and 1924 only had to take a Medical exam and sign a piece of paper. So this would make Albert Hale subject to deportation. My question is where would an American Indian be deported to? Although the Arizona Birthright Bill was eventually defeated, this illustrates a larger part of a political movement to terminate birthright citizenship which would incentivize undocumented immigrants from entering the U.S. and give birth to children who would become citizens by birth and then by virtue of this make the parents citizens too. (The Politics of Inclusion: Indigenous Peoples and U.S. Citizenship, 2016)

Following the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese immigrated to Mexico. By 1910, the Chinese had settled into nearly of state of Mexico. By the 1920’s, Chinese merchants had cornered the dry goods and grocery markets in northern Mexico and with this came Anti-Chinese sentiment, protests, and acts of violence against Chinese immigrants. “Unknown to most people, the Chinese were the first “Undocumented immigrants” from Mexico, and they created the first organized system of human smuggling from Mexico to the United States.” (Southern Border Reader, pg. 339) By creating an expansive transnational smuggling ring to avoid the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Chinese involved agents and their associates in China, Cuba, Mexico, and assorted cities in the United States. The Chinese used a myriad of ways to smuggle immigrants into the U.S., some used boats others the railroad. Then what started and which is still used today is the “coyote,” or “guide.” The Chinese migration to Mexico and then to the United States was and is defined as, “Transnationalism.” “ ( The emergence of a social process in which migrants establish social fields that cross geographic, cultural, and political borders) (The Southern Border Reader, pg. 339)

During the period of El Enganche (1882-1921) a mass migration of Mexicans to the United States began. After the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act and with the passing of legislation that ordered a “Head Tax,” (first .50 cents then $4.00) the U.S. passed the Immigration Act of 1885. In 1891, legislation was passed that “prohibited the importation of alien laborers by use of advertisements circulated in foreign countries which promised employment. These were done to stop the Chinese from coming into the United States. The Chinese were first charged $25.00 to $75.00 by the coyote’s in the 1890’s then by the mid-1920’s $200.00. During this time there were few controls placed on Mexican’s coming into the U.S., in fact, Mexicans were generally just waived into the United States. The only Mexican’s who were not allowed to enter the U.S. were the physically and mentally handicapped, paupers, beggars, and all persons not capable of earning a living, convicted criminals, polygamists, anarchists and prostitutes. From 1882 to 1924 before the creation of the Border Patrol, “the International Demarcation Line remained largely unpoliced and unregulated. There were also fewer than 60 mounted immigration agents stationed along the border with migration. After the turn of the century, coyotes started operating as labor contractors in the border towns of Ciudad Juarez, Piedras Negras, Nuevo Laredo, and later, Nogales and Matamoros. The coyotes would get .50 cents for each Mexican laborer that signed on to work. In fact, the demand for Mexican workers buy U.S. employers was so great in the decade of the new century that it started an intense competition among the labor contracting agencies at the border. One other reason for the Mexican labor demand was the start of World War 1 and the Mexican Revolution. During the revolution from 1910-1915 the United States admitted tens of thousands of Mexican refugees, most of whom were for economic than political refugees, to come and work in the U.S. (“Mexican Migration to the United States, 1882-1992: A long Twentieth Century of Coyotaje”)

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1917 was the beginning of the end of unmonitored entry of Mexican immigrants into the United States. The passing of the Immigration Act of 1917 imposed a literacy test and an $8.00 head tax on all immigrants coming into the U.S. This was a daunting task since most Mexicans were illiterate and poor. Wages in West Central Mexico at the time were .10 to .15 U.S. cents per day plus 3-1/2 kilos of corn for working from sun up to sun down. After a few months of the Acts passage, U.S. agricultural businesses in Arizona and California successfully lobbied (paid off) to have the U.S. Secretary of Labor waive the literacy test, head tax, and 1885 ban on contract labor for Mexican Farm Workers. In 1918, Mining and Railroad businesses successfully lobbied to have the waiver extend to Mexican rail workers and coalminers. These waivers were because of worker/laborer shortages brought on by the start of World War 1. These waivers were set to be terminated at the end of the war, but business industries that were being benefited by these low paid workers convinced the U.S. labor Department to continue the exemption for Mexican contract laborers until 1921. After the stock market crash of 1929, Mexican Immigrants were heavily scapegoated by nativists who blamed the widespread unemployment of U.S. workers on Mexican Immigrants. It was at this time in 1929 that legislation was passed to make it a felony for aliens to enter the U.S. illegally and punished re-entry after deportation more strictly. This was mainly directed at Mexican immigrants. After the United States entered World War 2, there were agricultural labor shortages. To meet this demand, the U.S. and Mexican governments negotiated an agreement to enact an agricultural guest worker program known as the Bracero program. During the war, the U.S. imported 168,000 braceros from Mexico. After the war, U.S. agricultural businesses successfully lobbied Congress to have the program renewed yearly until 1951 when the program was made permanent. In 1964, the bracero program was terminated by Congress because of pressure from Labor and Civil Rights movements. I might add, that during the 23 years that the bracero program lasted, over 4.5 million bracero contracts were issued to Mexican men to work in the U.S. In 1954, because of concerns about the border being out of control, the Border Patrol launched Operation Wetback. In addition to this, and the end to the bracero program, there were also changes in U.S. Immigration Policies that reduced Mexican migration to the U.S. In 1965 the Hart-Celler Act was passed which placed limits on Mexican immigration with a 120,000 cap on legal immigrants from the entire Western Hemisphere. Then in 1976, Congress imposed on the Western Hemisphere countries the same 20,000 annual quota for immigrant visas that it established in the 1965 Act for countries in Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe. In 1978 a law was passed that abolished Hemispheric caps and established a worldwide cap of 290,000 immigrant visas, then to 270,000 in1980. (Mexican Migration to the United States, 1882-1992: A Long 20th Century of Coyotaje, Spencer, 2005)

In the early 1980’s, the Reagan Administration cast the “Illegal Immigration” problem as a national security problem at the southern border. They warned that an unsecured border was an entry point for international terrorists. According to Silvestre Reyes, chief of the McAllen sector of the Border Patrol, “What’s scary about this trend of not just Mexican’s coming across our borders, but aliens from around the world. We don’t know who’s coming in-terrorists, criminals, anybody. Unless we stop it, we are vulnerable to anything.” During this time, the I.N.S. commissioner assigned a task force known as the Alien Border Control Committee with implementing recommendations from the Vice President’s taskforce on terrorism. Plans were made to seal the border with Mexico and arresting, prosecuting, and deporting thousands of “terrorist undesirables” during a so called “immigration emergency.” In 1986, Congress passed and President Reagan signed into law the Immigration Reform and Control Act, (General Amnesty Program) this program gave unauthorized migrants that could prove they lived continuously in the U.S. from January 1, 1982 the opportunity to become temporary then permanent legal residents. Many migrants had a difficult time proving their residency and hired coyote’s to obtain the needed documentation. Besides the amnesty program, migrants could legalize their status in a less stringent way by demonstrating they worked in agriculture (farming) in the U.S. for at least 90 days during the 12 month period ending on May 1, 1986. (S.A.W.) all the migrants needed were affidavits from agricultural employers. 2.3 million Mexican’s legalized their status through the I.R.C.A.’s Amnesty provisions. (September 19- October 2, 1993, Operation Blockade and Operation Hold The Line U.S. Mexico Border in El Paso, Texas, Operation Gatekeeper in San Diego at the same time) What is truly amazing, is that the coyote’s The motis operandi has changed very little from the late 1800’s from smuggling Chinese immigrants and the coyotaja smuggling  Mexicans from the early 1900’s to today.(National Border, National Park: A History of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Operation Hold the Line, Vincent Dowd)

After 9/11, the U.S. government cracked down on immigration, Federal, State, and Local law enforcement agencies have been working together to apprehend illegal immigrants and harassing legal immigrants because of their color and race. Our southern borders have seen a military buildup of walls and fences with razor and barbed wire and hundreds thousands of border patrol agents, militias, and armed civilians. Local law enforcement have been working with I.C.E. and notifying them when releasing illegal immigrants. When the migrants are released, I.C.E. agents are waiting outside to apprehend the migrants and ship them to federal lock-ups or private run institutions. We even see I.C.E. agents arresting parents when they drop their children off at school. This and the pressures of migration affect children mentally and physically. “The stresses of immigration are complicated by both the structural barriers and the “social mirroring” of nativist responses and racism that many immigrant children encounter. (Southern Border Reader, pg. 449) Along with stresses of immigration, comes structural and psychological violence, these become traumatic experiences for children. These children have been diagnosed with P.T.S.D. from witnessing killings, rape, and torture. These children are often harassed and bullied in their new neighborhoods and schools. At the same time, the parents must work multiple jobs which leaves their children unattended after school and therefore vulnerable to gangs. Immigrant families have also seen a number of exclusionary policies go into effect like Proposition 187 in California and the Illegal Immigration and Responsibility Act. There are policies aimed at excluding immigrants based on race and color and intense segregation in the work force, schools, and neighborhoods. There has also been a significant increase in human rights violations at our southern borders along with an increase in deaths resulting from exposure and violence. All of this and immigration, migration, and transnationalism won’t stop. What we need to do is stop wasting billions of dollars on stopping illegal immigration and use that money on programs, housing, and homelessness. Besides that, what if the U.S government was ever successful at shutting our southern border? Who would pick the fruits and vegetables? Who is going to clean homes, office building, and motel rooms? Who is going to do the landscaping, carpentry, painting, and labor work, etc.? Robots? A.

Sources Cited

  • Southern Border Reader. Vol, ser 50, pgs. 1-535, UC Berkeley Press, 2018.
  • Multiple Authors
  • Tsosie, Rebecca. “The Politics of Inclusion: Indigenous Peoples and U.S. Citizenship.” www.uclalawreview.org, UCLA LAW REVIEW, 2016.
  • Spencer, David. Mexican Migration to the United States, 1882-1992: A Long Century of Coyotaja. 28 Sept. 2005, www.ccis.ucd.edu.
  • Dowd, Vincent. “National Border, National Park: A History of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.” Operation Hold the Line, 2012, www.organpipehistory.com
  • “History and Culture-Tohono O’odham Nation” www.tonation-nsn.gov


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