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Immigration Terms and Analysis of Interview Term Paper

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Document Type:Term Paper


An understandably contentious issue, immigration cuts to the core of what it means to be American. Recent immigrants find themselves especially vulnerable to being caught in the crossfire of heated debates over American immigration policy. The migration of Mexican nationals to the United States is hardly a new phenomenon; in fact, the tide of immigration flow from Mexico ebbed in the 1970s. As Massey 1986) points out, it is a gross generalization to assume that economic factors alone drive immigration. Certainly there are a large number of immigrants from Mexico to the United States who are both pushed and pulled by financial need. Yet firmly established structures and institutions support new immigrants, and immigration is frequently a family phenomenon—particularly evident in the Mexican immigrant experience (Massey, 1986). Prevailing anti-immigration discourse in the United States obfuscates the tremendous amount of diversity within the American immigrant experience, and even among specific immigrant groups like those who hail from Mexico.

Furthermore, anti-immigrant discourse also echoes the nativist sentiments that have steeped their way through some segments of American society since the 19th century. The most extreme form of nativism is of course intransigent nativism, the extreme belief in stopping all new forms of immigration. The irony inherent in any form of nativist ethos highlights the inconsistencies in nativist arguments characterized by reactive ethnicity, a prime example of which is the “Hispanic threat” or “Hispanic challenge,” as Huntington (2009) calls it. Such arguments carefully skirt around apparent truths about American history, including the fact that the American-Mexican border was at one time a lot more fluid and permeable than it is today, and that much of the American Southwest had been under Mexican auspices until the Mexican-American war. Todos somos Americanos.

To elucidate the core principles, theories, and concepts addressed in the sociology of immigration in America, an interview was conducted with a first-generation immigrant from Mexico. The interview subject will be referred to as Juan for anonymity. Juan was born in Guadalajara and later moved to Mexico City with his family. Unlike many of the Mexican immigrants discussed in the sociological literature, Juan and his family were from a wealthy background and they retain strong business and social ties to Mexico City. The experiences of Juan and his family members nevertheless does parallel those of his compatriots, particularly in that Juan has encountered both subtle and overt forms of discrimination. Juan and several of his relatives of the same generations could easily be referred to as immigrant entrepreneurs or professional immigrants, as opposed to those with refugee status or who are labor immigrants.

Juan’s story reflects the salience of social organization as a key factor in immigration experiences. As Massey (1986) points out, kinship and community bonds can be either formal or informal but always have a strong bearing on the individual and collective immigrant experience. However, he has heard about landmark policies and programs like the Bracero Program of the early 20th century, which “came to be seen as a discriminatory and exploitive labor system, on a par with black sharecropping in the Jim Crow south,” (Massey, 1986, p. 2). Another major piece of legislation that impacted immigration policies in the United States was the Hart-Cellar Act/Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965—“a new system that allocated residence visas uniformly on the basis of labor market needs and family reunification criteria,” (p. 2). The Hart-Cellar/immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 took into account the fact that social organization and kinship ties are a major and often deciding factor for many immigrants. Moreover, emphasizing labor market needs creates pathways. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act also came out of the civil rights era reform, making it so that ethnicity or nationality were less important criteria for immigration quotas than humanitarian or economic forces. Then in 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act created new opportunities for establishing legal status in the United States. At this point in immigration policy history, the term “illegal alien” came into common use, transforming public perceptions and attitudes towards newcomers.

Juan is too young to remember how past immigration policies and laws in the United States might have impacted his community. Yet he completely understands…

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…his family’s experience. Finally, segmented assimilation takes socioeconomic class into account. Yet even the social network or social organization framework Massey (1986) puts forth could qualify as a form of segmented assimilation because of paisanaje (Massey, n.d., p. 105).

Finally, Juan talks about being “brown,” which is the new colloquialism for a blurred ethnic boundary. Demographic changes to the United States population throughout history resulted in the continual re-classification of different immigrant groups according to their re-negotiated status. Fox & Guglielmo (2012) call the re-negotiation of whiteness as blurring of the boundaries. Groups that were previously discriminated against for being “non-white,” meaning not from Western or Northern Europe, became “white” as their social status elevated. Even though a considerable number of “brown” Americans enjoy high socioeconomic status and seats in positions of power in all dimensions of life, there is still lingering racism impeding fruitful discussions of immigration. The Mexican and Mexican-American experience remains one of “internal colonization,” (Fox & Guglielmo, 2012, p. 330). Internal colonization is perhaps evident most in the Huntington (2009) and similar views on the Hispanic “threat.” Even in a post-colonial world, the belief in white/Western European superiority persists.

Juan remains optimistic. Racist views on immigration and attitudes towards Mexicans and other Latin(x) people are not majority opinions, he points out. Those who espouse such beliefs tend to be loud, and the media does give them more of a megaphone than is necessary. Americans need to focus on the positive changes taking place throughout the society as diversity and multiculturalism become the normative ethical ideal. Americans should take pride in the fact that theirs is a culture of immigrants, and a society that welcomes change. Many of the problems related to undocumented immigrants can be traced even less to race or ethnicity and more to socioeconomic class status. The poor and disenfranchised are the ones without access to the means by which to achieve upward social mobility, and attention should be paid towards reaching some kind of solution that recognizes the value of an actively integrated global market system—even if it means a radical solution like…

Sample Source(s) Used


Fox, C. & Guglielmo, T.A. (2012). Defining America’s racial boundaries: Blacks, Mexicans, and European Immigrants, 1890–1945. American Journal of Sociology 118(2) (September 2012): 327-379.

Gonzales, R. G. (2011). Learning to be illegal: Undocumented youth and shifting legal contexts in the transition to adulthood. American Sociological Review 76(4) (AUGUST 2011): 602-619

Huntington, S.P. (2009). The Hispanic challenge. Foreign Policy, 28 Oct, 2009.

Jones-Correa, M. (2012). Contested ground. Transatlantic Council on Migration. July 2012.

Massey, D. S. (1986). The social organization of Mexican Migration to the United States.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 48(7):, Vol. 487, Immigration and American Public Policy (Sep., 1986): 102-113?

Massey, D. S. (n.d.). What were the paradoxical consequences of militarizing the border with Mexico?

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