Latinos and immigrants

American citizens of Latino descent have long had a special relationship with Latin American immigrants, with whom they have shared a common culture and a common language. In addition to these cultural affinities, the geographical proximity of the United States and Latin American nations–particularly Mexico–has helped to foster close ties between Latinos in the United States and the nations from which new immigrants have emigrated. However, while Latinos in the United States have often helped immigrants adjust to life in the United States, others have felt threatened by Latin American immigration.

As Latin American immigrants poured into the United States in increasing numbers during the late twentieth century, many of them were absorbed into established American Latino communities. Many Latinos around the United States have organized their own social-service agencies to aid immigrants. For example, El Centro de la RazaEl Centro de la Raza, in Seattle, Washington;Latin American immigrantsSeattle, has hosted many services for new immigrants of all ethnicities since it was founded in 1972. It began as a Latino-led center but broadened its mission in a multiethnic community. Immigration, especially among Latinos, is a family affair, and El Centro often parses its mission in familial terms.Latinos;and immigrants[immigrants]Latinos;and immigrants[immigrants][cat]LATIN AMERICAN IMMIGRANTS;Latinos and immigrants[03170][cat]ECONOMIC ISSUES;Latinos and immigrants[03170]

El Centro and other community centers also have actively maintained Latin American connections, as well as relationships with diplomatic offices in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries. Some people at El Centro say that it is a community center with a foreign policy. El Centro, for example, has played a key role in forging Seattle’s sister-city relationship with Managua, Nicaragua.

Anti-immigration Sentiments

A minority of Latino immigrants who have become U.S. citizens (or their children) oppose further immigration. An example has been provided by Strangers Among Us: How Latino Immigration is Transforming America (Suro)Suro, RobertoRoberto Suro, the author of Strangers Among Us: How Latino Immigration is Transforming America (1998). The son of Puerto Rican and Ecuadorean parents and a reporter for the Washington Post, Suro has argued for strengthening U.S. border security, imposing stricter penalties for those immigrants who enter the United States illegally more than once, and restricting aid to countries, such as Mexico, that do not do enough to restrain emigration of their own citizens to the United States.

Suro’s views have been criticized for ignoring immigration’s motive forces throughout history. Most immigrants, including the parents of Latinos who came into the United States in earlier years, did not leave their original homes until economic necessity or political repression compelled them. Thus, the flow of illegal immigration can be solved only by fundamental political and economic changes in the countries whose people are leaving in large numbers. However, critics have charged that this line of reasoning ignores the safety-valve function of emigration from countries that cannot provide employment for all their citizens.

Suro’s book focuses not on Latin American immigrants like himself who have succeeded in the United States, but rather on those whom, he asserts, wallow in the culture of poverty, fail to learn English, and feed on the illegal drug trade and other forms of criminal activity. His perception is selective, critics charge, as he perpetuates stereotypes that fuel much anti-immigrant activity. Suro speaks for a segment of the immigration debate whose advocates believe that the expanding, open economy of earlier years in the United States has stagnated, and that further immigration will only worsen tensions among ethnic groups, causing more problems for already resident Latinos by increasing competition for limited jobs.

Another example of the differing attitudes held by various Latinos vis-à-vis immigration is evident at the U.S -Mexican border, where a large proportion of the federal agents who enforce laws keeping the border secure are themselves Latinos.Latinos;and immigrants[immigrants]

Further Reading

  • González, Juan. Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America. New York: Viking Press, 2000. Good overview of the histories of the many Latino immigrant groups that have come to the United States.
  • Hopfensperger, Jean. “Hard Times Send Latinos Back Across the Border: Fewer Jobs, Tougher Immigration Rules Force Some Immigrants to Return Home.” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, May 29, 2009. Extensive examination of Latino immigrants’ return to their home countries following economic difficulties in the United States, especially in Minnesota’s Twin Cities.
  • Schrader, Esther. Review of Strangers Among Us by Roberto Suro. Washington Monthly, October, 1998. Detailed examination of issues raised in Suro’s book on Latino immigration, which is reconfiguring North American politics and culture. Suro opposes illegal Latino immigration.
  • Segura, Gary M., ed. “Latino Immigration and National Identity.” Perspectives on Politics (June, 2006). Rebuts assumptions that Latino immigrants generally fail to succeed and adapt to social norms in the United States; it finds that public discourse on Latinos and immigration often relies on stereotypes and inaccurate information.
  • Suro, Roberto. Strangers Among Us: How Latino Immigration Is Transforming America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998. A Washington Post reporter, Suro explores immigration issues and concludes that older Latino immigrants sometimes oppose easing of laws for those who come after them.

Bilingual education

Bracero program

Chicano movement

Drug trafficking


Farm and migrant workers

Illegal immigration

Latin American immigrants

Mexican immigrants

Puerto Rican immigrants

West Indian immigrants