Module 7 – Immigration


Illegal immigration is a topic that tends to generate heated debate. This debate often focuses on Mexican citizens crossing the border without official documentation that would allow them to come into the United States legally to visit, work, or attend school. The southwestern states through which many of these illegal immigrants enter the United States were once a part of the country of Mexico.  As the loser in the war, Mexico agreed to cede a significant portion of Mexican territory to the United States:

The matter of “the border” has loomed large in the relations between Mexico and the United States. This has been especially true because of the participation of Mexicans in the migrant labor pool necessary to harvest crops in many parts of the country. During World War II, the United States welcomed Mexican farm workers:

But one of the labor movements of the 1960s focused on the treatment and working conditions of farm workers. One of the leaders of the movement was a Mexican American labor organizer, Cesar Chavez:

The stereotypes about Mexican illegal immigrants have a direct impact on American citizens of Mexican and Spanish ancestry. The anger some other Americans feel about illegal immigrants is sometime misdirected at Mexican American (Latino/a, Chicano/a) citizens. Historically, events such as the Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles during World War II illustrate the nature of this conflict:

However, we should note that the immigration debate has not been confined to the Mexican border. Americans have arrived on these shores in waves. The English won out in the race to settle and claim the continent. When the Irish arrived in the 19th century, they – who had a long history of conflict with the English – were the subject of stereotypes and discrimination. In turn, Irish immigrants were sometimes involved in conflicts with African Americans, with whom they competed for poorly paying jobs and whom many recently arrived Irish immigrants blamed for the Civil War draft:

But it was Chinese immigrants to America who were the first to be officially singled out for a federal law (the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882) that restricted their immigration to the United States. Chinese men who had been able to come into the United States as laborers found that they could not bring Chinese women to American for marriage. Chinese immigrants settled into communities that became known as “Chinatowns,” and that initially were the only areas in which they were allowed to live. On the West Coast, Chinese men were beaten and even lynched when they attempted to work in occupations that were restricted to white males.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, Italian immigrants were among the non-English speaking immigrants who arrived in the United States. They, too, experienced discrimination. In the public mind, Italian Americans as an ethnic  group became associated with the criminal activities of “the Black Hand,” a secret organization involved in extortion and kidnapping, and with the mafia. The mafia would later become synonymous with organized crime in America, and the Italians would be identified with the “Italian Mafia.”

Each group of immigrants arriving in the United States has gone through a process of “becoming America” by adopting the language, clothing, and other aspects of the culture of mainstream America. Some groups have found this assimilation easier than others.

Suggested Activities

Activity 1:
The question of what to do about illegal immigration into the United States is a difficult one to resolve. What would you suggest is the appropriate response to illegal immigration. Keep in mind that although the focus is often on illegal immigration by Mexicans, illegal immigrants from other countries are also in this country.  See this article from an Arizona newspaper:

Would it be fair and justice to deport everyone who is in the country illegally? Should we make exceptions?

Activity 2:
Do you think that the United States government should recognize the fact that we are a multicultural society by including other languages—in addition to English -- as “official languages” of the United States?  Or, is it sufficient to make sure that all important documents and information are available in multiple languages.