Back To CourseWorld History: High School
27 chapters | 278 lessons
As a member, you'll also get unlimited access to over 75,000 lessons in math, English, science, history, and more. Plus, get practice tests, quizzes, and personalized coaching to help you succeed.Try it risk-free
Stephen has taught history, journalism, sociology, and political science courses at multiple levels, including the middle school, high school and college levels.
In the summer of 2014, the United States experienced a massive surge in immigration across the Mexican-US border. What was alarming, however, was how many of the immigrants migrating across the border were minors. The sudden and large influx of young migrants brought immigration from Latin America once again into the national spotlight. But the rise of Latin American migration to the United States is not a recent phenomenon. Whereas immigration to the United States used to be predominately European, most immigrants today to the United States come from Latin America. But what are the roots of Latin American immigration?
In this video, we will review the different theories explaining the causes of immigration from Latin America to the United States. While reviewing these theories, we will look at specific countries with a history of migration to the United States and explain how these histories fit into the different theories of migration.
The old adage is that 'people will move to improve'. Similar to this adage, neoclassical economics argues that immigration from one country to another country will occur whenever an individual finds it in their best interest to migrate to another country. Essentially, individuals run a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether the costs of moving from one's home country are outweighed by the benefits expected when arriving in another country. If they think the benefits outweigh the costs, the potential immigrant will decide to move.
Proponents of this theory argue that the high influx of immigrants from Latin America to the United States is due to the difference in wage levels. Accordingly, the high wages in the United States relative to Latin American countries drive individual desires to migrate toward the United States. For example, some studies suggest that Mexican migrants can expect to earn up to 5 times as much in the United States as they would in their home country. Clearly, this plays an obvious role in a migrant's decision to move.
A second theory that also helps explain why migration might occur between two countries is the New Economics of Migration Theory. This theory argues that migrants don't move because of the pull of higher wages, but because of the push of ineffective markets in their home country.
Take, for example, a Guatemalan citizen looking to buy a home for his family. Under normal circumstances in the United States, someone would go to the bank in order to secure a mortgage toward buying a house. But in Guatemala, there may not be a strong enough banking system that he can rely on to obtain ownership of his home. In the absence of such a system, our Guatemalan citizen will have to look for other ways to raise the capital necessary to buy a home. And one of those ways available to him is to migrate towards the United States temporarily so that he can raise sufficient money to construct his home. In other words, this theory holds that migration is a temporary solution to overcome deficiencies in the markets of the immigrant's country.
An important prediction of this theory is that immigration will only be temporary, not permanent, and that immigrants will remit, or send back, lots of money to their home country.
There is a lot of evidence to support this theory. For example, the Pew Research Center estimated that in 2013 Mexican immigrants remitted $23 billion dollars back to their home countries. Other Latin American immigrants, the same study found, remitted $32 billion dollars back to their home countries. Such high levels of money being sent back home suggests that many of the immigrants will one day return home and that most migration was to complete some project in their home country or to help out their family raise money in some way.
A third theory, called Segmented Labor Market Theory, argues that migration occurs because of the high demand of developed countries for immigrant labor. According to this theory, a service economy like the United States has two kinds of jobs: high paying jobs with great benefits and desirable conditions and low-skilled jobs that are often hazardous or unwanted. According to this theory, immigrants come to the United States because they help fulfill the unwanted and hazardous low-skilled jobs that many American citizens refuse to perform.
A primary example of this is the agricultural business which in many areas is fulfilled by Mexican migrant workers. Agricultural jobs, such as crop picking, usually pay very little, are only temporary, remotely located, and require a lot of hard work. Consequently, few Americans would want such jobs. Thus, Segmented Labor Market Theory highlights that immigration occurs because immigrants fulfill necessary but unwanted jobs in the labor market.
A fourth theory, called World Systems Theory, looks at international migration from a macro-level perspective. This theory argues that the rise in international migration is a result of globalization. Globalization is the process by which the world economies have become more integrated. This theory argues that as capitalism has spread worldwide, the economies of third-world countries have dramatically changed.
For example, prior to the arrival of capitalism in Latin America, several immigrants were peasant farmers who specialized in the cultivation of one crop within their local market. But as foreign companies have come in and taken over farming markets, several peasants have been unable to compete as peasant farmers. This push off their land has forced many migrants to seek employment either in a major Latin American urban center or migrate to a first-world economy, like the United States.
World Systems Theory also considers the role of political history as a cause of immigrant migration. For example, an important predictor of whether an immigrant migrates to a country is how connected the two countries are politically.
This part of world systems theory is very important in light of how much the United States has gotten involved politically with other Latin American countries, such as Cuba, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, among others. Indeed, all of these countries have high levels of US investment and/or a past military intervention on the part of the United States. Thus, it is not surprising that they all send significant numbers of migrants to the United States every year.
A prominent reason for migrating given by the Central American immigrant children that were detained during the summer of 2014 was the growing violence in their home countries related to the drug trade. This example demonstrates World Systems Theory quite clearly. For one, it shows that the demand for drugs in the United States has unstabilized several Latin American countries, thus increasing the likelihood of immigrants migrating to the United States. Thus, World Systems Theory highlights the role of politics and globalization in explaining migration.
A fifth theory looks not so much as what causes migration to begin, but at what causes it to continue. This theory, called Social Capital Theory, examines the way in which migrant social networks transmit information about immigration back to their home country.
For example, take a migrant from the Dominican Republic who moves to New York City. This migrant may phone back to the Dominican Republic and relay information to friends and family about life in the United States and ways to succeed. Those who hear these stories may then use the information in order to prepare their own trip to the United States. In other words, immigrant social networks may transmit information to their hometowns which make it easier for other immigrants to arrive in the United States, thus creating a snowball effect of increasing migration from an area. Indeed, many of the migrant children who attempted to arrive in the United States during the 2014 summer had some relative already in the United States.
In this video, we have seen 5 theories that help explain why immigration from Latin America to the United States has occurred.
All of these theories complement each other and help us get a complete picture of the recent rise of Latin American immigrants to the United States.
After this lesson is completed, you should be able to:
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Already a member? Log InBack
Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.
To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page
Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.
Back To CourseWorld History: High School
27 chapters | 278 lessons