Academic journal article Bilingual Review

Immigration, Citizenship, and U.S./Mexico Relations

Academic journal article Bilingual Review

Immigration, Citizenship, and U.S./Mexico Relations

Article excerpt

Kevin R. Johnson [*]


The 1990s have been fascinating times for study of United States-Mexico relations. In the decade's early years, public discussion in the United States centered on the ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a controversial trade accord between the United States, Mexico, and Canada. [1] The NAFTA debate in the United States focused on whether this country should enter into a trade agreement with Mexico; Canada's inclusion as a trading partner provoked considerably less controversy. [2] Free trade forces ultimately prevailed and Congress approved the agreement. [3]

Not long after NAFTA's approval, debate over immigration, particularly undocumented immigration from Mexico, hit a fever pitch in the United States. Tinged by a distinctly anti-Mexican tilt, [4] California's Proposition 187, which swept to a landslide victory in the November 1994 elections, [5] marked the beginning of the restrictionist onslaught. Congress soon after funded monumental efforts to bolster enforcement along the United States Mexico border through military-style operations. [6] Like the infamous deportation campaign of 1954 known as Operation "Wetback," [7] in which the United States rounded up and deported Mexican immigrants and United States citizens of Mexican ancestry, recent border enforcement efforts meant tightening migration controls along the nation's southern border with Mexico and increased deportation of Mexican citizens. Tighter enforcement came despite the longstanding charges that U.S. Border Patrol officers all-too-frequently abuse Mexican citizens. [8] At the same time, the fede ral government stiffened the immigration laws [9] and drastically limited the public benefits available to legal as well as undocumented immigrants. [10] This legislative action disparately impacts Mexican citizens. [11]

One might wonder what this modern history has to do with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which in 1848 ended the United States-Mexican War. [12] As part of the price for peace and a large piece of Mexican land, the Treaty, among other things, purported to protect the rights of Mexican citizens in the territory surrendered to the United States. [13] However, as many have carefully documented, the spirit, if not the letter, of the Treaty went largely unfulfilled. [14] Most fundamentally, many Mexican citizens, transformed by the Treaty into United States citizens of Mexican descent, and their descendants, never enjoyed full membership rights in this society, despite the Treaty's promise that they would. [15]

Though dealing with issues of citizenship, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo did not address future migration between the United States and Mexico, as the nations were reconfigured under the Treaty and later the Gadsen Purchase. [16] Thus, the Treaty drafters failed to confront a question that ultimately came to dominate relations between the two nations. This omission is understandable in light of the fact that the U.S. government did not enact the first comprehensive immigration laws until several decades after Mexico and the United States consummated the Treaty. [17] Unlike modern times, immigration did not preoccupy the national consciousness.

Like its predecessor, NAFTA failed to deal generally with the question of migration. Unlike the omission of migration from the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, however, the modern failure is striking because migration had emerged as one of the most, if not the most, contentious issues in United States-Mexico relations during the latter half of the twentieth century. [18] A high level of migration between the two nations is a simple fact of modern life. Indeed, not long after NAFTA's ratification, Mexico, for the first time in its history, allowed its citizens to become U.S. citizens while maintaining Mexican nationality, [19] thereby legally recognizing--in a way that NAFTA did not--the transnational identity of a segment of its population. …

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