History and Evolution of the U.S. Latino Population


History and Evolution of the U.S. Latino Population

AS EARLY AS 1803, AMERICAN FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC POLICY BEGAN TO SHAPE the future of a permanent Latino presence in the United States when the United States purchased the formerly Spanish-ruled Louisiana Territory from France. The purchase of Florida followed in 1819 (Oboler and Gonzalez 2005, 4:268; Weber 1973, 14). Soon thereafter, Moses Austin and his son Stephen entered into an immigration agreement with Mexico. Anglos began to migrate from the southeastern United States to Mexican Texas. Inevitable racial and cultural conflicts between Mexicans and Anglos led to a call for independence by the white immigrants, resulting in the determinative battle at San Jacinto in April 1836.

Texas became an independent republic, but one that depended on a future alliance with the United States. By 1845, the time ripened for Manifest Destiny to proceed westward (Voelker 2004). Anglos believed that they were ordained by God (Griswold del Castillo 1998, 31–32) to expand democracy and freedom to those who were capable of self-government, excluding Native American people and non-Europeans. The United States acquired roughly 500,000 square miles of the former northern part of Mexico, land that today constitutes the U.S. Southwest and Northwest (PBS “U.S. Mexican War”).

Approximately 75,000 Mexicans decided to remain and receive American citizenship in 1848 (McWilliams 1948, 52). Between 1870 and 1900, the Mexican population grew slowly until reaching greater numbers by 1930. The exclusion by Congress of Chinese immigrants from the 1880s to 19431 increased the demand for Mexican labor. Of the almost 50,000 workers, Mexican-descent persons made up 70 percent of the section crews and 90 percent of the extra gangs on the principal western railroad lines (Taylor 1934, 92–93, 168).

These Mexican workers were later joined by vast migrations from Mexico. The first influx, precipitated by the Mexican Revolution, began in 1910. A second wave through 1930 resulted in the increase of the Mexican American population by nearly one million. During and after World War II, encouraged by the Bracero Program and attracted by the agricultural labor market, a third group of Mexicans came to the United States. In addition, in the early 1960s, about 3,500 Latinos immigrated through official channels each month (U.S. Census Bureau 1970, 2).

The termination of the Bracero Program in 19642 did not curtail the growth of the Mexican population. Instead, natural economic forces increased the undocumented population. In 1974, the INS reported the apprehension of over 788,000 aliens (U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service 1974, iii). The increased undocumented immigration resulted from not only the termination of the Bracero Program but also the imposition by Congress of the Western Hemisphere quota in the Hart-Cellar Immigration Act,3 a policy decision that limited immigration from Latin American countries (Acuña 1972, 143–44).

This increase in the undocumented population results from what is referred to as the “push-pull” factor. American businesses “pull” (attract) lower-wage workers from other countries to perform duties generally considered unattractive by the domestic work force. Simultaneously, the sending country’s economic hardships result in “pushing” their usually large populations to seek a means of feeding their families by going to another country. Once in the country, unauthorized immigrant families have U.S.-born children, who by constitutional edict are American citizens.4

The Central American, Caribbean, and South American Latino Populations

The early 1980s saw a rapid increase in immigration not only from Mexico but also from Central America, the Caribbean, and South America (Fry 2009). By 2010, this migration wave resulted in Latinos constituting 22 percent of all children under the age of 18 in the United States, up from the 9 percent in 1980 (Liu 2012, 620). This large number of Latino youth can only point to a continual growth of the U.S. Latino population.

According to the 2010 Census, 308.7 million people resided in the United States on April 1, 2010, with Latinos representing 50.5 million (16 percent) of this total. In 1970, Latinos totaled 9.6 million of the nation’s population (Gibson and Jung 2002). This ethnic group increased to 35.3 million in 2000 and then to 50.5 million by 2010. The Latino growth from the 2000 to the 2010 Census accounted for more than half of the 27.3 million increase of the entire U.S. population. More dramatically, between 1970 and 2010 U.S. Latinos experienced a growth rate of 426 percent (Ennis, Rios-Vargas, and Albert 2011, 2).

In 2010, Mexican-origin Latinos accounted for 63 percent of all Latinos. All the other major Hispanic nationality groups grew significantly. Puerto Ricans, for example, accounted for 4.6 million, and Cubans and Salvadorans reached 1.8 million and 1.6 million, respectively (Ennis, Rios-Vargas, and Albert 2011, 2–3).

Latinos who reported other Hispanic origins also increased. This group includes other Central Americans, South Americans, and Spaniards. These nationalities, which have seen large percentage increases in their American presence, migrate from nations that experience severe violence and economic problems, such as Spain, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (Ennis, Rios-Vargas, and Albert 2011, 3).

The Latino impact on the United States can perhaps be better appreciated by a comparison of immigration from one century to another. In 1910, Germany was the top country of birth among U.S. immigrants, with Germans constituting the biggest immigrant group in seventeen states and with Mexico dominating in only three states (Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas). In 2010, persons of Mexican descent represented the major immigrant group in thirty-five states, while Germany dropped out completely from the number one position. The remarkable fact is that among the thirty-five states, Mexican immigrants dominate on the West Coast, from south to north; in some states along the Canadian border; in a few East Coast states, and in the South and along the Southern border, with the exception of Florida (Krogstad and Lopez 2014, 2010 map).

In 2010, some 41 percent of all Latinos lived in the West and 36 percent lived in the South. The other 23 percent resided in the Northeast and the Midwest. In the West, Latinos accounted for 29 percent of the population, exceeding the then national Latino population average of 16 percent. Of major importance to the rights of Latinos in the criminal justice system, the 2010 Census revealed an extraordinary 57 percent Latino growth in the South, an increase that was four times the overall 14 percent growth of the population. In the Midwest, the Latino population increased by 49 percent from 2000, more than twelve times the 4 percent growth of the total population in that region (Krogstad and Lopez 2014, 4–6).

Excluding the Texas statistics from the Southern tallies, the large Latino increase in the other Southern states has led to culture shock for the Anglo population. Businesses such as the Alabama tomato growers and the Georgia poultry-company owners might love the Latino work force, but other Southerners despise them on racial and cultural grounds, and others criticize them for allegedly taking jobs from Anglos.

These population figures are critical, as well, in explaining the adverse reaction by police and government against this population (Perez 2012). Specifically, those arrested encounter a criminal justice system lacking in bilingual attorneys, court interpreters, and cultural awareness and sensitivity (Salinas and Martinez 2010, 543). In times of budget pressures, administrators limit costs by using court employees as interpreters. This practice infringes on the rights of LEP individuals who require the effective assistance of counsel and the ability to confront witnesses.

As to the Cuban-descent Latino population, more than three-fourths (77 percent) of the 1.8 million Cubans in the nation reside in the South. In Florida, Cubans account for 1.2 million persons, or 68 percent of the total Latino population. Puerto Ricans constitute the second largest population in Florida, with 848,000, or 20.1 percent. In 2010, about 74 percent of the nation’s 50.5 million Latinos, or 37.6 million, lived in eight states: California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, Arizona, New Jersey, and Colorado (Ennis, Rios-Vargas, and Albert 2011, 5, 8).

In conclusion, a few major cities—New York, Los Angeles, Houston, and San Antonio—alone account for nearly 6 million Latinos (Ennis, Rios-Vargas, and Albert 2011, 11). These numbers necessarily place an excessive strain upon the administration of the court systems. Unfortunately, the higher Latino numbers can also lead to aberrant police and prosecutorial behavior, implicit bias, racial profiling, and disparate treatment in the courts. These four cities, for example, represent the settings of some of the worst abuses of minority and Latino civil rights in recent years. They include the New York racial profiling (Floyd