"It is almost dusk in San Ysidro, Calif., and the crowd has been growing at the fence all day. Now hundreds of people are poised, waiting for the sun to set. Men, women, even families, wait nervously, trying to rest before continuing their exhausting journey north. Vendors circulate through the crowd offering tacos, cigarettes, soft drinks, even shots of tequila.
"Border patrol officers in their trucks remain at a distance across the barrier, hoping that their presence will serve as a deterrent to the crowd moving forward, but knowing full well that, as always, they will make only a small difference.
"Darkness comes and a helicopter sweeps overhead, illuminating the ground with a searchlight. Parts of the crowd surge forward, some through holes in the wire; others make la brinca ("the hop") and sail through the air down the north face of the fence. Another night on the U.S.-Mexico border has begun."
That is how one observer described a 1992 evening along the porous fence line between Tijuana and San Ysidro pictured in this photo. This was during a period when hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants were pouring into the United States from Mexico and Central America each year across a 1,951-mile border which stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
Immigration, both legal and undocumented, on such a large scale during the 1990s was fueled by the "push" of conditions in Mexico, which included high unemployment, recurring economic crises, and high inflation rates, and the"pull" or lure of a better life, or at least a better job, in the United States.
Mexican immigration to the United States was then, and is now, the most complex and difficult issue jointly facing the two nations.
Even though immigration across the border had been occurring for more than a century, and followed patterns that had been stimulated by American-fostered migrant worker importation schemes such as the Bracero Program, Mexicans during the 1990s faced an anti-immigrant hysteria in California.
The American economy was stalled and in California unemployment rates in the early 1990s climbed to nearly 10 percent. "Close the border" coalitions began to emerge with trade unionists and advocates of the poor on the left joining with political conservatives on the right.
Immigrant bashing and scapegoating was a frequent theme of politicians, including California Gov. Pete Wilson. Wilson, who presided over one of the state's largest budget deficit crises, blamed immigrants for fiscal problems in education, health, and human services.
During his 1994 reelection campaign, the governor became the leading proponent for Proposition 187, a state ballot measure which proposed excluding undocumented immigrants from public health care and undocumented immigrant children from California's public schools.
Wilson was reelected and Proposition 187 passed, although its effects were later negated in a variety of legal decisions. The election also had national repercussions, including 1996 laws discouraging undocumented workers and the fortification of the border with metal fencing in urban areas such as San Diego-Tijuana and El Paso-Juarez and established Operation Gatekeeper.
But Proposition 187 had an unforeseen effect, as well, as Latinos nationally registered to vote in record numbers. During the 2000 presidential election, Latino voter participation in California increased by 40 percent over 1996 election levels.
And as immigration has continued, Latinos are now the second largest ethnic group in California, after non-Hispanic whites, and soon will become the largest minority group in the nation.
- Students analyze the economic boom and social transformation of post-World
War II America. (11.8.2)
- Students analyze the major social problems and domestic policy issues in contemporary American society.