Rebuilding: Immigration at the Southern Border

America–the melting pot–is known for being a place where people come to chase their dreams. History reminds us that the pilgrims settled in America as their home to practice their religious freedoms. More immigrants from around the world traveled a great distance to create the United States everyone knows today.

However, immigration has become a key issue in recent decades. Despite the nation’s past, politicians have attacked immigrants, specifically those crossing the southern border. Campaign promises were made to stop those traveling from Mexico and other Hispanic countries. Although the issue has been prevalent recently, Mexican laborers have faced immigration discrimination throughout history.

Yesterday's Mexican Laborers

The first immigration law was passed by the United States Congress in 1891. The law stopped people with criminal histories and those who were deemed physically fit to enter the country (Molina, 2011). As a result, Mexicans at the border went through demoralizing and harmful bath and physical exams by the US Public Health Service in 1916 (Molina, 2011). The baths and inspections were legitimized since Mexicans were believed to carry diseases into America. However, Mexican immigrant rates increased dramatically during the 1920s as there was a need for laborers (Molina, 2011).

In 1942, America and Mexico collaborated to create the Bracero Program (Molina, 2011). Due to another labor shortage after WWII, Mexican men worked short-term in agriculture or war industries. The labor was strenuous, the pay was measly, and the employers were harsh. As a result, migrant workers looked for other jobs with better work conditions ("Bracero Agreement," 2019). The Bracero program finally ended in 1962 after efforts from labor and civil rights activists ("Bracero Agreement," 2019).

Collins, M. (1943). Stockton (vicinity), California. Mexican agricultural laborers topping sugar beets [image]. Library of Congress.

Nadel, L. (1956) Braceros work in a lettuce field with short-handled hoes in the Salinas Valley, California [image]. National Museum of American History.

Collins, M. (1943). Stockton (vicinity), California. Mexican agricultural laborer topping sugar beets [image]. Library of Congress.

Today's Mexican Immigrants

As of 2021, there are over 37 million Mexican immigrants (Duffin, 2022). They travel to America for several reasons, from seeking asylum to reuniting with family. However, the most common cause for relocating continues to be for economic opportunities (Rosenbloom & Batalova, 2022). Those who cross into America search for job opportunities. Most immigrants come from a country that struggles economically. As seen through the Bracero Program, employers hire them because they know immigrants will work long hours for relatively low wages.

Mexican immigrants, specifically, contribute to an array of occupations. They work in areas of sales and office jobs to production and transportation. However, the majority of Mexican immigrants, precisely 26%, are found in sales and natural resources, construction, and maintenance positions (Rosenbloom & Batalova, 2022).

For example, Jose Jimenez found work as a brick mason after arriving in North Carolina in 1997. When he was only 17, he left his home in Veracruz to earn money to support his mom and dad. In the short clip (left), he explains that his favorite memory from his childhood is celebrating his parent’s birthdays with the rest of his family.

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Despite all odds, Jimenez was able to build his own brick-laying company. He explains in the complete interview (right) how beginning the endeavor was the hardest part. However, his determination to provide for his family superseded the struggle, as is the case with many of those that immigrate to America.

Summing It Up

For decades, laborers from Hispanic nations, specifically Mexico, have faced discrimination. The jobs they pursue are painstaking and unappealing, yet they persist and continue to do the work others turn away. They pursue the American Dream that the first settlers sought after–a place to grow and a way to provide for themselves and their families. 

Coming to America is a struggle in and of itself. Between immigration policies and the expenses, the road to the United States is strenuous. However, the other battles begin once they arrive. Immigrants face discrimination and exploitation along with the burden of working a job. Despite the struggles, they persevere and build a new life in America.


Bracero Agreement (1942-1964). (2019). Immigration History.

Duffin, E. (2022, October 5). Hispanic population in the U.S. 2021, by origin. Statista.

Krogstad, J. M., Lopez, M. H., & Passel, J. S. (2020, June 10). A majority of Americans say immigrants mostly fill jobs U.S. citizens do not want. Pew Research Center.

Latino Stories. (n.d.). National Museum of American History.

Molina, N. (2011, June). Borders, laborers, and racialized medicalization Mexican immigration and U.S. public health practices in the 20th century. American Journal of Public Health, 101(6), 1024-1031.

Rosenbloom, R., & Batalova, J. (2022, October 13). Mexican immigrants in the United States. Migration Policy.

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