During a recent Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing , Senator Mitt Romney said, “My state is desperate for more workers…. our agriculture community needs more workers to harvest the crops. Our dairy farmers need people to work on the dairy farms. They want to get visas, more visas, to bring people in, who are available to work in our country desperately needed here. ” He then went on to say that we need to secure our border.
The Senator has no fundamental understanding of the origins of the current immigration problems in the United States. On one side of his mouth he is promoting the root cause of our illegal immigration problem while on the other side he is saying we must stop illegal crossings.
The passing of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (Hart-Celler Act) resulted in enormous consequences for American immigration. Not only did it replace the Immigration and Nationality act of 1952 which had qualitative and quantitative measures, but it ended the Bracero program. The Bracero program was created to allow Mexican workers to work legally in the southwestern United States, to combat the low amount of manual labor in America during the Second World War. Ending the program without increasing immigration enforcement led to a much greater number of immigrants, both legal and illegal, from Latin America to the Southwestern U.S.
In 1951 the United States congress passed the Bracero program giving temporary federal work permits to Mexican nationals. The program allowed these migrants to work in the U.S. temporarily for a total of five years. This law marked the beginning of the United States utilizing and establishing a guest worker program in the Southwest and resulted in the first substantial piece of policy driven immigration increase. 1Illegal immigration increased during these years because employers, dissatisfied with the Bracero Program, sought to maximize their profits.
According to The Mexican Immigrant Worker in Southwestern Agriculture by Albert N. Thompson, “Each day the number of workers crossing the border illegally is higher, because the legislation as well as the agreement are flagrantly violated by the employers. Certain authorities in the United States as well as in Mexico often tolerate such violations.”2 This goes to show that corporate greed will lead to breaking the law and taking advantage of workers in order to ensure greater profit. However, this was met with stiff enforcement with the initiation of Operation Wetback in 1953-54 where over one million illegals were apprehended.
A report from the Secretary of Labor to President Kennedy in1962 regarding Mexican labor program revisions concluded the Bracero program failed to “protect U.S. farm workers” and supported the passage of the National Farm Labor Recruitment Bill which encouraged employment of unemployed Americans instead of Mexican migrants. 3 This report led to eliminating the Bracero program in 1964. This had significant consequences to immigration flows in the southwest United States. According to the Domestic Council Committee on Illegal Aliens in December 1976, “The forces which created and sustained the “Bracero” program continue to persist. There continues to be economic demand via some employers in the United States for Mexican workers. That demand is being met by commuters and illegal aliens”.4 Other temporary worker programs were enacted, however, not on the same scale as the Bracero program. Lax enforcement led a large numbers in illegal immigration. This led to unauthorized population growth steadily for years to come.
According to a report named, “Unintended Consequences of US Immigration Policy: Explaining the Post-1965 Surge from Latin America, “…by the late 1950s a massive circular flow of Mexican migrants had become deeply embedded in employer practices and migrant expectations and had come to be sustained by well developed and widely accessible migrant networks (Massey, Durand, and Malone 2002). As a result, when avenues for legal entry were suddenly curtailed after 1965, the migratory flows did not disappear but simply continued without authorization or documents.”5 The process of allowing and then disallowing temporary workers within the United States without increasing a substantial immigration enforcement mechanism created a vacuum that resulted in great numbers of illegal border crossings.
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Political parties formed to represent these new immigrants. A newspaper published in 1977 represented the members of the La Raza political party and their desire to have at least 66,000 voters registered in the party by the end of the year. This would allow the party to be on the California ballot. The newspaper also warned of long-lasting political pressure La Raza would be able to put on the Democrat party which would will lead to “Mexican Americans [reverting] to vote Democratic…” Latin American activists forced greater support for the La Raza Unida and its policy initiatives were outlined in the “National La Raza Unida Party Priorities 1”. 6In the 1970s La Raza Unida, located in San Jose, California outlined its political agenda. The ideas and plans many would consider radical even to this day. The policy initiatives included, ending the right-to-work laws, redistribution of wealth, the break-up of monopolies and prison reform. These policies are pro-immigrant and stem from the southwest United States immigrant community. In turn, more immigration leads to a stronger base for these policy initiatives. 7 When conducting analysis on the cause and effects of policy and immigration, in is important to look at the second and third order effects of how immigration changes politics and economics within society.
No matter one’s political stance on the immigration policy that was initiated in the mid-1960s, the Hart-Celler Act of 1965 and the repeal of the Bracero program, were together the most far reaching revisions of immigration policy in United States History. Not only did to affect southwest economics and politics but it led to tremendous changes in the demography of the United States as a whole and laid the foundation for the unauthorized migration of the last 50 years. The Hart-Celler act also led to many being stuck between the lawful and the unlawful. The developments led to a lot of complexity in power sharing between who made decisions about lawfulness and unlawfulness. The act gave a civil rights framing to immigration issues. The 1965 act also repealed the quota system; the imposition of a western hemisphere quota system created the roots of the unauthorized population we have seen since 1965.
In order to pass the transformational immigration policy, LBJ agreed to make immigration based on family connection rather than a merit-based immigration system, due to pressure from Congress. Certain congressman believed that making it family-based would maintain the racial demographics of immigration and the nation. LBJ believed that with this addition, the bill would not be transformative.8 However, this bill was the most transformative immigration policy to be implemented. In order to begin to attempt to fix this colossal migration problem lawmakers must look at the cause and effects of U.S. immigration policy. Some questions current policy makers should ask themselves are — If the 1965 act was such a momentous piece of legislation, how and why did it happen so quickly? Was the act driven by the idealism in the 60’s, the narrative of civil rights era, or by the principled foreign policy? Was it purely symbolic by the authors or did they really think they were doing something revolutionary? If they kept the family unification intact thinking they would maintain the racial demography of the country, why were their estimates so wrong?9
Senator Romney should spend less time talking about the need for more workers which got us into this mess and more about stopping this black market of labor flooding the country and driving down wages for hard working Americans. Instead Republican Senators should introduce legislation to end guest worker programs and end chain migration.
1 “1951 Public Law 78 Extension of the Bracero Program-An Act to Amend the Agricultural Act of 1949,” in The West Point Guide to Immigration and Ethnicity, ed. Hooton, Laura (New York: Rowan Technology Solutions, 2016), 5.
2 Thompson, Albert N. “The Mexican Immigrant Worker in Southwestern Agriculture.” The American Journal of Economics and Sociology 16, no. 1 (1956): 73-81. Accessed February 2, 2020.
3 “Mexican Labor Program Revisions, 1962,” in The West Point Guide to Immigration and Ethnicity, ed. Hooton, Laura (New York: Rowan Technology Solutions, 2016), 5.
4 “Domestic Council Committee on Illegal Aliens December 1976,” in The West Point Guide to Immigration and Ethnicity, ed. Hooton, Laura (New York: Rowan Technology Solutions, 2016), 13.
5 Massey, Douglas S, and Karen A Pren. “Unintended consequences of US immigration policy: explaining the post-1965 surge from Latin America.” Population and development review vol. 38,1 (2012): 1- 29. doi:10.1111/j.1728-4457.2012.00470.
6 “Raza Unida Takes Big Strides, 1974,” in The West Point Guide to Immigration and Ethnicity, ed. Hooton, Laura (New York: Rowan Technology Solutions, 2016), 13.
7 “National La Raza Unida Party Priorities 1,” in The West Point Guide to Immigration and Ethnicity, ed. Hooton, Laura (New York: Rowan Technology Solutions, 2016), 13.
8 Cis. “The Legacy of the 1965 Immigration Act.” CIS.org, 1 Sept. 1995, cis.org/Report/Legacy-1965- Immigration-Act.
9 Mark K. Updegrove, Tom Gjelten, Paul Taylor, Hiroshi Motomura, Susan Westerberg Prager Muzaffar Chishti. ”Transcript of Migration Policy Institute Symposium: The Immigration Act of 1965 Then and Now”
Cis. “The Legacy of the 1965 Immigration Act.” CIS.org, 1 Sept. 1995, cis.org/Report/Legacy-1965-Immigration-Act.
Massey, Douglas S, and Karen A Pren. “Unintended consequences of US immigration policy: explaining the post-1965 surge from Latin America.” Population and development review vol. 38,1 (2012): 1-29. doi:10.1111/j.1728-4457.2012.00470.
Thompson, Albert N. “The Mexican Immigrant Worker in Southwestern Agriculture.” The American Journal of Economics and Sociology 16, no. 1 (1956): 73-81. Accessed February 2, 2020.
Mark K. Updegrove, Tom Gjelten, Paul Taylor, Hiroshi Motomura, Susan Westerberg Prager Muzaffar Chishti. ”Transcript of Migration Policy Institute Symposium: The Immigration Act of 1965 Then and Now”
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