In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Migration to the United States

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews of US Immigration
  • Central America
  • The Caribbean
  • Cuba
  • South America

Latin American Studies Migration to the United States
Timothy J. Henderson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0014


The literature on Latin American migration to the United States is vast, and a bibliography of this sort must necessarily be highly selective. The literature includes studies by sociologists, economists, anthropologists, political scientists, and surprisingly few historians. Immigration, of course, directly involves issues of public policy, and much of the literature on the topic was produced with a view toward influencing that policy. Such literature tends to be of an ephemeral character. A review of that literature might provide useful snapshots of particular policy issues at given points in history, but preference has been given here to works of real substance that contain a strong historical dimension. Immigration is, of course, a perennial “hot button” issue that has attracted, and continues to attract, its share of polemics that seek more to alarm than to enlighten. Readers who wish to learn about such works can consult studies of nativism that are listed here. Readers will no doubt notice the preponderance of works about Mexican migration to the United States. That is because Mexicans make up by far the largest percentage of Latin American migrants to the United States—an estimated 94 percent. The Border Patrol has long been in the habit of dividing immigrants into two categories: Mexicans and “Other than Mexicans” (OTMs). It should hardly be surprising, then, that the lion’s share of the literature on the topic of Latin American migration to the United States focuses on Mexican migration. Another, much smaller, body of literature deals with migration from Central American and/or the Caribbean. Migration from South America to the United States has been too insignificant to attract much scholarly attention. The literature on migration from Central America and Cuba presents special challenges because there is an important distinction to be made between those who migrate for economic reasons and those who migrate for political reasons.

General Overviews of US Immigration

Migration from Latin America is only one part of the general panorama of migration to the United States, and it cannot readily be understood without reference to the general sweep of US migration history. Latin Americans have affected and been affected by periodic reforms of US immigration policy. Included, therefore, are some of the outstanding works on US immigration that deal with Latin American immigration as part of a larger context. Useful surveys of US immigration policy include Tichenor 2002 and Zolberg 2006, while other works examine particular aspects of immigration. Ngai 2004 focuses in particular on the phenomenon of illegal migration, noting the changes in US immigration law that shaped this phenomenon, while Reimers 2005 looks principally at “newer” migrants who came in the wake of the 1965 law that ended racist “national origins” quotas. Spickard 2007 both reviews the history of immigration to the United States and challenges the notion of an American “melting pot.”

  • Daniels, Roger. Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life. 2d ed. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

    Broad overview of immigration to the United States from colonial times to the present.

  • Ngai, Mae M. Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.

    Award-winning book that traces the concept of “illegal aliens” from the earliest restrictionist legislation in the 1920s to the immigration reform of 1965. Considers migration from Mexico as well as from the Philippines, Japan, and China. Argues that immigration restriction has colored Americans’ racial attitudes and their preoccupation with policing the borders.

  • Reimers, David. Other Immigrants: The Global Origins of the American People. New York: New York University Press, 2005.

    Focuses on immigration to the United States in the wake of the 1965 immigration reform that abolished the “national origins” system of 1924 and paved the way for more diverse, multiethnic immigration of Africans, Asians, and Hispanics.

  • Spickard, Paul. Almost All Aliens: Immigration, Race, and Colonialism in American History and Identity. New York: Routledge, 2007.

    Massive (744-page) volume that considers immigration and ethnicity from about 1600 to the present. Argues against the “assimilationist” model of immigration, contending that Asian, Hispanic, and African immigrants are seldom accepted by many Anglo-Americans as “real” Americans.

  • Tichenor, Daniel J. Dividing Lines: The Politics of Immigration Control in America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.

    Sweeping history of US immigration policy from late colonial times to the present. Focused largely on political conflicts spawned by immigration.

  • Zolberg, Aristide. A Nation by Design: Immigration Policy in the Fashioning of America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2006.

    Sweeping history of US immigration policy from late colonial times to the present, considering political and social context of various immigration reforms.

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