Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2009

Publication Title

The Journal of Latino-Latin American Studies







Publisher Name

University of Nebraska-Omaha


U.S. President Barack Obama has vowed to “help countries like Mexico… do a better job of creating jobs for their people” as part of his plan to curtail undocumented immigration to the United States (Organizing for America). This idea – that the root cause of undocumented migration from Mexico to the U.S. is economic underdevelopment in Mexico – has currency in both popular and political discourse. But is it accurate? In this article, I synthesize historical, theoretical, and ethnographic scholarship to provide a transnational perspective on twentieth century labor migration from Mexico to the United States. These data show that “illegal” transmigrant labor is not an historical accident, nor merely an unfortunate side effect of legal migration, nor a result of economic underdevelopment in Mexico. Rather, undocumented transmigration is a predictable result of the confluence of three interrelated trends: neoliberal development of the Mexican and U.S. economies, the establishment of transnational social networks over time, and gross disparity between U.S. immigration policy and the realities of labor needs within global capitalism. Political rhetoric that deems unauthorized migration as “Mexico’s problem” obscures this economic interdependence, conceals the ways in which development policies have produced itinerant wage labor, and masks the complicity of U.S. policies in encouraging and sustaining undocumented labor migration. Furthermore, rhetoric that distances U.S. policy from labor migration reinforces the marginalization of some estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.


Author Posting. © University of Nebraska-Omaha, 2009. This article is posted here by permission of the University of Nebraska-Omaha for personal use, not for redistribution. The article was published in JOLLAS, Volume 3, Number 3, 2009.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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