Revisiting an Immigrant Family

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Revisiting an Immigrant Family

News article

By: Jeffrey Kaye

Date: October 26, 2005

Source: Kaye, Jeffrey. "Revisiting an Immigrant Family." Online NewsHour. (26 October 2005).

About the Author: Jeffrey Kaye is an Emmy winner and a former writer for the Washington Post. He is a senior producer for a public television station and the News-Hour's Los Angeles correspondent.


Mexican immigration into the United States became a hot-button political issue in the 1990s and the early years of the twenty-first century. Parts of the United States in the southwest, such as portions of New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and California, had been part of Mexico for centuries before the United States gained power over these areas in the mid-1800s. Many people of Spanish descent stayed in these lands in spite of the power shift, maintaining communities, missions, businesses and family ties that had been in place long before English-speaking settlers began to colonize portions of the Americas.

Many Mexican men migrate to the United States, entering the country legally, to earn money in seasonal jobs, returning home when the work ends. Throughout the 1990s, the number of Mexican immigrant workers increased by 123 percent in the labor force; for U.S. citizens the increase was thirteen percent. With more than 2.9 million new Mexican immigrant workers entering the United States and working during this time, the impact of Mexicans on the labor force and society in the United States was dramatic.

Many Mexican families use "chain migration" to bring families to the United States. First, a male worker enters the United States—legally or illegally—and gains a paid position. While sending money home to his family, he also works to establish legal residency. Once he receives permanent resident status—the so-called "green card"—he can legally apply to bring a spouse and children to the United States. All persons sponsoring immigrants to the United States must earn more than 125 percent of the federal poverty level; many unskilled laborers or those working without documentation are at a disadvantage in bringing family to this country. Once the permanent resident's family enters the United States, each can apply for permanent resident status—and in turn apply to bring their relatives of first order. In this way, extended families slowly move to the United States, maintaining ties and social networks in both countries.

The following news segment highlights changes in immigration policy and status for one family and sheds light on the state of immigration in 2005.


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The Correa family's story is not unique and reflects the experience of many Mexican immigrant families in modern times. The 1996 welfare reform eliminated access to many government programs, such as food stamps and Social Security Insurance for legal immigrants, and bars undocumented workers and their families from accessing all government programs except immunizations, emergency health care, and disaster relief. These changes were designed to discourage immigrants from coming to the United States and using government assistance in lieu of work, or as a substantial supplement to work. However, the children of undocumented workers can enroll in public schools and some states and local entities provide access to government programs for legal and undocumented immigrants.

Tighter borders severely affected "circular migration," in which workers cross the border frequently to work in the United States but spend time in their hometown. As the Embassy of Mexico notes in its document "Fostering Circular Migration": "Until the second half of the eighties the traditional pattern of migration from Mexico to the United States was circular. This entailed the fluid crossing of people along the border. Several analysts suggest that, since Mexican migration is essentially economic in nature, increased border enforcement, without sufficient legal avenues to match labor demand and supply, has reduced circularity over the past years." Until the 1980s circular migration was a popular choice for many Mexican families; the father and older sons came north for the harvest season or for other unskilled work for a few months, then returned home, bringing an influx of money into the economy while maintaining ties with his children, spouse, and extended family. As circular migration becomes difficult, more undocumented Mexican immigrants have chosen to settle in the United States, often bringing their families across the border illegally.

While more than seventy percent of Mexican nationals surveyed stated that they would be interested in participating in a temporary guest worker program, over time fewer Mexican workers who enter the United States legally are willing to return to Mexico for fear of being unable to cross the border again to return to their jobs. This leaves many families in limbo: Without legal status in the United States the worker cannot return home easily for visits or apply to bring his or her family to the U.S. Legal immigrants do not face the same hurdles, but unskilled workers are at a strong disadvantage when applying for legal entry; in 2005 the United States distributed 5,000 visas for unskilled laborers to enter the country legally—only two went to Mexican workers.



Ellingwood, Ken. Hard Line: Life and Death on the U.S.-Mexican Border. New York: Pantheon Books, 2004.

Haines, David W., and Karen E. Rosenblum, eds. Illegal Immigration in America: A Reference Handbook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Massey, Douglas S. Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Mexican Immigration in an Era of Economic Integration. New York: Russell Sage Foundation Publications, 2003.

Yoshida, Chisa To, and Alan Woodland. The Economics of Illegal Immigration. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005.

Web sites

Embassy of Mexico. "Fostering Circular Miration." 〈〉 (accessed July 10, 2006).

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. 〈〉 (accessed July 10, 2006).

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Revisiting an Immigrant Family

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