On May 6, 1882 the U.S Congress passed a federal law called the Chinese Exclusion Act which prohibited Chinese immigration to the United States. It was the first significant restriction on free immigration in U.S. history and it remained in effect for 60 years. Many Chinese had immigrated to the U.S. during the California gold rush of 1849 and they were generally well received, especially when they helped build the Transcontinental Railroad. When the good times tapered off, however, white organized labor groups were jealous of whatever gold was left in “them thar hills” and an anti-foreigner atmosphere ensued. After being forcibly driven from the mines, the Chinese who were already in California settled in Chinese enclaves in cities, mainly San Francisco and Oakland, and took up low end wage jobs such as restaurant and laundry work.
The Chinese Exclusion Act didn’t keep Chinese from still trying to get in, however, and Asian workers crossing into U.S. territory from Mexico became a big problem. In 1904 the U.S. established the first border patrol whose agents were responsible for a section of the border that ran from El Paso, Texas, to California. At that time Mexicans were moving rather freely back and forth across the border for work related purposes with no problem. In fact, in 1910 at the beginning of the Mexican revolution, many Mexicans fled north and settled permanently in the American southwest.
In 1921 the U.S. Congress passed an immigration act that established the first quota system for European immigrants. They attempted to include Mexicans in the restrictions but were blocked by the U.S. farm sector who relied heavily on Mexicans as farm laborers. In 1942, the U.S. and Mexico started the “Bracero” program to bring in temporary workers from Mexico to supplement an acute shortage of labor due to the demands of World War II. The Bracero program didn’t end until 1964. There are people whom I know in Mexico who have talked to me about how well received Mexican workers were during World war II. They tell me that entire trains would pull up at the local station and the word would go out that anyone who wanted to go to the United States to work should get on the train. To make a long story short, the United States has relied upon Mexico as a source for cheap labor for well over one hundred years at the very least. Just as Mexico has been a significant source for labor in the past and in the present it will continue to be a source in the future, especially when the seventy-six million American “Baby Boomers” start to retire in a few short years.
Many Americans are afraid of the current influx and want to build a wall. The former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, reminded me recently that the Great Wall of China didn’t prevent barbarians from getting through and the Berlin Wall did not prevent the arrival of Freedom and Democracy to East Germany. One of these days the American people are going to realize that utilizing all the available labor and resources of North America is the only way that they are going to be able to compete with China and India. It is extremely important that we develop a comprehensive plan for temporary workers., because Mexico is definitely a friend and not an enemy.