Contextualizing Immigrant Labor Market Incorporation - SAGE Journals

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Contextualizing Immigrant. Labor Market Incorporation. Legal, Demographic, and Economic Dimensions. JACQUELINE MARIA HAGAN. University of Houston.


Contextualizing Immigrant Labor Market Incorporation Legal, Demographic, and Economic Dimensions

JACQUELINE MARIA HAGAN University of Houston

This article provides the Work and Occupations readership with an overview of U.S. immigration trends, and it discusses some of the scholarly and public policy debates surrounding the particular labor market patterns of recent immigrants. The first section focuses on how the history of U.S. immigration policy has shaped the flow and composition of today’s foreign-born workers. The second section underscores some of the demographic and economic consequences of recent large-scale immigration. The third section draws on census data to profile contemporary immigrant workers. The remainder of the article highlights the major empirical and theoretical contributions that each article makes toward understanding how different immigrant groups become inserted into U.S. employment structures. Then, it discusses recent debates in the literature on immigration and labor markets with an eye toward the current and future role of immigration policy. Keywords: U.S. immigration trends; immigrant labor market characteristics; human capital models; U.S. immigration policies; immigrant social networks


s we enter the early part of the 21st century, the United States is once again becoming a nation of immigrants. During the 1990s, more immigrants came to live in the United States than in any decade in the nation’s history. The United States added roughly 9.1 million legal and 3.5 million unauthorized immigrants to its population during this 10-year period, an even larger figure than the nearly 8.8 million documented in the historical flows of the first decade of the 1900s (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2003).

Author’s Note: This issue came to fruition thanks to the support and invaluable editorial assistance of Janet Chafetz. I would also like to thank Susan Gonzalez Baker for the comments she made on an earlier draft of this article. A warm thanks is also extended to Dan Cornfield for the support and guidance he provided throughout the development of this issue. WORK AND OCCUPATIONS, Vol. 31 No. 4, November 2004 407-423 DOI: 10.1177/0730888404268921 © 2004 Sage Publications




To be sure, immigration to the United States has been on the rise since the very low levels of the 1930s, but flows increased dramatically during the past few decades of the 20th century. Recent large-scale immigration indicates that immigrants will play an increasingly important role in the growth and composition of the U.S. population and its labor force in the 21st century. By 2000, the foreign-born population had reached more than 30 million, a remarkable increase from 9.6 million in 1970, the lowest total in the 20th century. The growth was even greater during the last decade of the 20th century, when the proportion of foreign born increased from 7.9% in 1990 to 11% in 2000. By 2000, 51% of the foreign born in the United States were from Latin America, two thirds of whom were born in Mexico and Central America. Approximately 26.4% of the foreign born came from Asia, another 14.6% from Europe, and the remaining 8% were born in other areas of the world (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2003). The articles in this issue deal with the economic implications of this demographic transformation. Specifically, the articles draw on a variety of methodological and theoretical approaches to explain patterns of labor market incorporation among the foreign born in the United States and discuss the implications for immigrant job fluidity and mobility. The discussion takes place in the context of recent economic restructuring in the United States, a process involving a polarization of occupations in which an increase in highpaid occupations is linked to an increase in low-paid service jobs, which newcomer immigrants tend to fill (Harrison & Bluestone, 1988; Sassen, 1988). Drawing on the behaviors of three sets of social actors—immigrants, employers, and state policy makers—the articles collectively demonstrate the importance of both supply and demand factors in understanding the particular features of contemporary immigrant workers. This introductory article provides an overview of U.S. immigration trends and discusses some of the debates surrounding the particular labor market patterns of recent immigrants. The first section focuses on how the history of U.S. immigration policy has shaped the flow and composition of today’s foreign-born workers. The second section underscores some of the demographic and economic consequences of recent large-scale immigration. The third section draws on recent census data to profile contemporary immigrant workers. Next, I highlight the major empirical and theoretical contributions that each of the five articles makes toward understanding how different immigrant groups become inserted into U.S. employment structures. The final section focuses on recent debates and emergent research directions in the literature concerning immigration and labor markets.



EXPLAINING RECENT IMMIGRATION TRENDS Several legal, economic, and social factors account for the recent surge in immigration. Historically, U.S. immigration policy has set the parameters for legal immigration, but the prominent periods of immigration reform have been inconsistent, at times curtailing and at other times expanding the conditions under which people have been permitted to come to live and work in the United States. Until 1875, no federal legislation barred admission into the country. The first restrictive immigration law, which was directed at undesirable immigrants, passed in 1875. Many of the follow-up pieces of legislation, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907, reflected racism and anxieties about threats from inexpensive immigrant labor from Asian countries (Smith & Edmonston, 1997), concerns that would continue to restrict Asian admission throughout the first half of the 20th century. The 1921 Quota Act and the follow-up 1924 Act were the first comprehensive immigration laws for the United States. They defined the broad outlines of immigration policy until Congress amended them in 1965 (Smith & Edmonston, 1997). Together, the 1920s legislation set limits on permanent legal immigration through the establishment of the national origins quota system based on the stock of immigrants already living in the United States. As a result, immigration declined overall and the lion’s share of those who did arrive to live in the United States came from Northern and Western Europe, with smaller representation from Southern and Eastern Europe. The twin blows of the Great Depression and World War II further curtailed legal flows from Europe for several decades. The United States continued to bar Asian immigration, and fearing adverse consequences for native workers, many in the resident Mexican population were deported. An unanticipated consequence of the 1920s legislation was an increase in unauthorized migration. People from Europe who were unable to enter through the quota system sought illegal entry through the then unguarded northern and southern borders where the local populations moved freely back and forth without any impediments (Smith & Edmonston, 1997). Moreover, at the same time that the United States was restricting permanent legal migration, it adopted a series of legislative initiatives fostering temporary migration from Mexico and other Latin American countries. In 1943, in an effort to fill labor shortages in the farm industry during World War II, Congress enacted the infamous Bracero Program, which allowed farm workers from Mexico to work on U.S. farms on a temporary basis. In this issue, Rodriguez (2004) highlights the prominent role played by the U.S. government in recruiting Bracero workers for the large-scale restructuring of an agricultural



workforce. This program ended in 1964 as mounting critics charged that Bracero workers were adversely affecting the wages and jobs of native farm workers (Martin, 1996). One of the demographic legacies of this program was the institutionalization of migrant networks, which reduced the costs associated with migration for future migrants from Mexican communities (Massey, Alarcón, Durand, & González, 1987). In 1965, major reforms to the Immigration and Naturalization Act liberalized U.S. immigration policy. The 1965 amendments dismantled the national origins quota system as the basis for immigration and provided nations with similar numerical quotas of roughly 20,000 visas. By the mid-1970s, these amendments ushered in, for the first time, large numbers of legal immigrants from Latin America along with smaller flows from Asia. Equally important, immediate family members were exempted from the quota limits. As a result of these reforms, legal immigration flows to the United States gained enormous strength after 1965, and in subsequent decades, especially following the Refugee Act of 1980, the composition of the immigrant population shifted from European origin to Latin American and Asian. For example, during the 1951 to 1960 decade, approximately 53% of all legally admitted immigrants came from Europe; another 7% came from Asia and 25% from Latin America, including Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. By the 1991 to 2000 decade, among new legal entrants during that period, only 15% left Europe, whereas 31% came from Asia and 47% from Latin America (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2003). The last several decades of the 20th century also included an increasing number of unauthorized migrants, many of whom were fleeing economic crises in Mexico and political turmoil in Central America (Hamilton & Chinchilla, 2001; Massey et al., 1987; Rodriguez, 1987; Rodriguez & Hagan, 1999). Possessing few transferable labor-market skills, little command of the English language, and relatively low levels of education, many of these newcomers found jobs in the fast-growing service economies of the Sun Belt states of the Southwest and California (Bean & Stevens, 2003). Some years later, roughly three million members of the undocumented stock seized on the opportunity to adjust their status to legal permanent residents through the Legalization Program of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, a policy initiative designed to remedy the problem of an established undocumented population in the United States (Hagan & Baker, 1993; Massey, Durand, & Malone, 2002). Armed with permanent legal status, several years later, these newcomers sponsored the legal immigration of their family members who, because they were exempt from numerical restrictions, accounted for a substantial number of the elevated early 1990s admissions.



Mounting concern over the skill and education levels of America’s newcomers led the U.S. Congress to take action again. The Immigration Act of 1990 revised legislation dealing with legal immigration for the first time in a quarter of a century, with an eye toward drawing new entrants with higher skills and education. Although the 1990 legislation continued providing unlimited entry for immediate family members of U.S. citizens, it tackled labor issues by limiting the number of visas for unskilled workers while elevating the number of employment-based visas. Additionally, recognizing the important role that expert skills play in a global economy, the U.S. Congress expanded the number of temporary work visas available to U.S. firms for several years in the 1990s. The most significant and controversial among these changes was the reclassification of the H–1B visa category, which constitutes the largest program supplying temporary foreign workers with high skills to U.S. employers (Lowell, 1996). In 2002, under the H-1B program, which Smith (1996) refers to as the “new high-tech Bracero Program,” U.S. employers filed more than 215,000 H-1B petitions, 198,000 of which were approved. The beneficiaries of this program are overwhelmingly from Asia, and the jobs are concentrated in computer science programming, engineering, education, and medicine and health-related occupations (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2003). Although Congress designed the program to meet temporary shortages in specialty occupations, as is the case with other guest worker programs in general, substantial numbers of H-1Bs eventually adjust their status to permanent legal residence via employmentbased visas (Bach, 2001; Lowell, 2001). The issue of using immigration policy to alleviate shortages in particular occupations is extremely complex, as Lowell and Gerova (2004) caution in their article in this issue; rather, they call for more systematic research on the role of immigrants in alleviating shortages. Since 1965, U.S. immigration policy has emphasized the social goal of family unity and the economic goal of skill preferences. Unprecedented numbers of ethnically diverse immigrants and workers of various skill levels are arriving at our shores. The long-term demographic implications for the rapidly aging U.S. population and of recent large-scale immigration are dramatic. According to U.S. census projections, newcomer immigrants, those who arrive after 2000, and their children will comprise as much as two thirds of the growth in the U.S. population in the 21st century. Moreover, because current flows are dominated by persons from Latin America, the U.S. census further projects that the Hispanic population will almost double in the next 50 years, from 12.6% in 2000 to 24.4% by 2050 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2004).



The demographic effects of recent immigration are not evenly dispersed across the geographic landscape of the United States. The majority of immigrants live and work in six states: California, Texas, New York, Florida, New Jersey, and Illinois. Within these states, immigrants are overwhelmingly concentrated in the large metropolitan areas of Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Houston, and Miami, cities in which immigrants have traditionally settled (Singer, 2004). The 2000 census, however, shows that Asian and Hispanic immigrants are now spilling over into new regions of settlement. Most of these emergent gateway cities are located in the Southeast and West and include such places as Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Portland, metropolitan areas that housed tiny percentages of immigrants until recently (Frey, 2003; Singer, 2004). In addition, new migratory streams from Latin America are heading directly from Mexico and Central America to our hinterland, to rural communities in North Carolina and Georgia, where immigrants find work in industries that have historically relied on native workers, such as carpet production and meatpacking (Zuniga & Hernández-León, in press). In sum, as we press well into the 21st century, immigrant labor settlement areas and labor market concentrations are dispersing much more broadly over America’s urban and rural landscape.

LABOR MARKET CHARACTERISTICS OF NEW IMMIGRANTS The impact of immigration is not just demographic; it is economic. Most immigrants come to the United States to work. As each of the articles in this issue demonstrate, immigrants play an increasingly important role in the U.S. economy simply by virtue of the fact that they are workers, a basic labor market outcome that is often overshadowed by research that concentrates on the relative wages and earnings of immigrants and natives (Altonji & Card, 1991; Bean, Lowell, & Taylor, 1988; Borjas, 1990). To be sure, immigrants have played an important role in our labor force historically, but in recent decades, the United States has become increasingly dependent on immigration for its labor-force growth. In 1960, the share of foreign-born workers in the labor force was 1 in 17; by 2000, it had jumped to 1 in 8, or about 13% of our total labor force of roughly 142 million (Mosisa, 2002; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2003). Foreign-born workers were especially important to the nation’s economic growth and job creation in the mid to late 1990s, accounting for almost half of the net increase in the nation’s civilian labor force from 1996 to 2000 (Mosisa, 2002; Sum et al., 2002).



Although the labor-force participation rates of the foreign born have been historically lower than those of natives, this trend has changed recently. In 2000, the participation rate of the foreign-born population was 66.7%, about equal to the 66.9% for the native population (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2003). It was interesting that the labor-force participation rates of the foreign born continued to increase slightly in 2001, following the beginning of the economic downturn, whereas the labor-force participation rate of natives declined slightly (Mosisa, 2002). Despite the recent convergence in laborforce participation rates, immigrants and natives differ substantially on other labor-force characteristics, most notably in occupational patterns and earnings. Overall, the foreign born are overrepresented in low-paying service and manual jobs and in high-paying professions, reflecting their bifurcated educational distribution (Smith & Edmonston, 1997). Today’s immigrants have either very high or low levels of education. When the educational attainment of immigrants is compared with that of the native-born population, immigrants are far more likely not to have completed high school than the native born are but about as likely to have college degrees (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2003). This phenomenon is largely a function of the differences in the educational attainment of immigrants by region of origin. Census 2000 data show that Latin Americans, who make up more than half of all immigrants now entering the country, have lower high school completion rates than the native born, 49.1% versus 86.9%, respectively. In dramatic contrast, high school completion rates for immigrants from Asia (84.0%) and Europe (81.1%), both of whom comprise a smaller share of all immigrants, are almost equivalent to those of the native born (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2003). Table 1 provides insight into the economic roles that immigrants play in the United States and also highlights their overrepresentation in low-end jobs. In 2000, roughly 19% of the foreign born were employed in service occupations, and another 19% worked as operators, fabricators, and laborers. In contrast, roughly 13% of the native born labored in each of these occupational categories. Conversely, in 2000, only about 24% of the foreign born were employed in managerial and professional specialty occupations, compared with about 31% of natives. Among the foreign born, the jobs they perform vary substantially by nationality, a pattern we might expect given the differences in educational attainment by region of birth. In 2000, immigrants from Latin America, most of whom were born in Mexico, were more likely than other foreign born to find employment in service occupations as operators, fabricators, or laborers. In 2000, almost half of all foreign-born workers from Latin America worked

414 31.0 15.3 15.6 30.7 3.3 12.4 15.0 13.1 0.5 1.9 10.7 10.5 3.7 4.0 2.8 12.6 4.9 4.0 3.7 2.1 0.9 1.2 118,207

24.5 10.6 13.9 20.7 3.0 9.3 8.4 19.1 1.8 0.8 16.5 12.2 2.8 5.7 3.7 18.9 9.1 3.8 6.0 4.6 0.1 4.5 17,616

All Foreign Born

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of the Census (2003), reweighted to 2000 census. NOTE: All figures are given as percentages.

Managerial and professional specialty Executive, administration, specialty Professional specialty Technical, sales and administration support Technicians and related support Sales occupation Administrative support, clerical Service Private household Protective service Other service Precision production, craft, and repair Mechanics and repair Construction trades Other production Operators, fabricators, and laborers Operators, assemblers, and inspectors Transportation and material movers Other laborers Farming, forestry, and fishing Farm operators and managers Other farming Total workers (1000s)

U.S. Born 37.9 15.8 22.1 24.0 3.7 9.6 10.7 15.1 1.5 1.1 12.5 12.2 3.4 5.2 3.6 10.2 5.6 1.8 2.9 0.6 0.1 0.5 2,327

Europe 38.9 15.8 23.1 27.3 5.5 12.2 9.5 15.0 0.9 0.5 13.6 6.0 1.6 1.2 3.1 12.1 6.8 2.2 3.0 0.7 0.1 0.7 4,730


Percentage Distribution of Occupation of Employed Persons by World Region of Birth, 2000

Occupational Group


11.8 5.7 6.1 16.3 1.4 7.6 7.2 22.7 2.6 0.7 19.5 16.2 3.3 8.6 4.2 25.1 11.4 5.0 8.7 7.9 0.2 7.8 9,141

Latin America

36.3 15.8 20.5 21.5 3.4 10.1 8.0 16.7 0.8 1.8 14.1 7.3 2.1 2.7 2.5 15.9 8.0 4.5 3.4 2.4 — 2.3 1,418




in service occupations (22.7%) and as operators, laborers, and fabricators (25.1%). Immigrant workers from Latin America were also employed in precision production, craft, and repair jobs (16.2%) and worked in jobs in sales and administrative support (16.3%). In 2000, slightly less that 12% of all foreign-born workers from Latin America found jobs in managerial and professional specialty occupations. However, the proportions in managerial and professional specialty occupations ranged from about 23% for workers from South America and from the Caribbean to 9% for workers from Central America and Mexico (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2003). In direct contrast, in 2000, more than one third of all foreign-born workers from Asia, Europe, and other global regions located work in managerial and professional jobs. Approximately a third of each of these groups also found work in technical, sales, and administrative jobs. Relative to their Latin American counterparts, immigrants from Asia, Europe, and other areas were far less likely to be employed in service occupations or as laborers. The work immigrants do in the United States is further segmented by gender. Census data show that in 2000, both immigrant men and women worked in well-paying jobs requiring high levels of education, such as professionals and educators, and they both comprised a disproportionate share of those whose jobs require little or no schooling, such as private household and assembly-line workers. The differences in the work that immigrant men and women do emerge when one accounts for nationality. In 2000, more than a third of Latin American women labored in service occupations (34.9%; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2003), where successive cohorts of newcomers from Mexico and Central America found jobs as private household service workers, low-paying occupations that require neither schooling nor command of the English language (Hagan, 1994; Hondagneu-Sotelo, 1994; Menjivar, 2000). In contrast, Latin American men made up a large share of workers in precision production, craft, and repair occupations (22.8%)—a pattern that is explored by Hernández-León (2004) in his study presented in this issue— and they were especially likely to find work as laborers, assemblers, and fabricators (29.2%; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2003). Although male and female Asians, Europeans, and immigrants from other areas were disproportionately employed in jobs that require high levels of education, including professional positions as educators, engineers, nurses, and physicians (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2003), they too work in different jobs, a pattern that is reflected in the healthcare industry, as discussed in the article by Lowell and Gerova (2004).



EXPLAINING IMMIGRANT LABOR MARKET INCORPORATION The primary goals of the articles that collectively comprise this issue are to understand how immigrants come to occupy their jobs and to explore prospects of social mobility among them in U.S. labor markets. To address the particular labor market incorporation of immigrants in the United States requires an understanding of the logic and behaviors governing three sets of actors. On the supply side are the immigrants themselves, in both the sending and receiving countries, who rely on human and social capital to gain entry into jobs in U.S. labor markets. On the demand side, both U.S. employers, who depend on inexpensive and abundant immigrant labor, and government actors, who regulate immigrants’ entry into the Unites States and its labor markets, engage in behaviors that influence how immigrants are incorporated into U.S. labor markets. The standard model of labor market incorporation in the United States relies on human capital attributes to explain immigrant jobs and earnings. This repertoire of skills, which is derived from census data, usually includes a host of achieved attributes, such as education, language competence, age, length of residence, and employment experience back home (Borjas, 1990). A basic supply-side explanation posits a fit between the human capital repertoires of potential migrants in the sending countries and the needs of U.S. employers. Lowell and Gerova (2004) nicely illustrate this model, which emphasizes that both low skilled and high skilled immigrants can sell themselves as valuable commodities in the U.S. labor market. In this descriptive article, they draw on census data to examine, for the first time, the labor market positions of immigrant workers within the entire spectrum of the fastest growing industry in the U.S. economy: healthcare. Lowell and Gerova’s article reveals that immigrant healthcare workers share many of the same attributes as immigrants elsewhere in the economy. They are found both at the upper and lower ends of healthcare occupations. At the upper end, they work as physicians; at the lower rungs, they work as nursing aides. The authors argue that the bimodal distribution is largely a function of the different human capital attributes of Latinos and Asians. Ascribed characteristics, most notably gender, also influences the jobs immigrants hold in this industry, as it does natives. Human capital attributes are not the only resources that immigrants rely on to gain entry into the U.S. labor market. Immigrants also draw on the resources accumulated through personal social networks, which can direct newcomers to specific jobs and workplaces. Migrant social networks are built on the strength of relationships of kinship and friendship (Boyd, 1989).



They develop gradually over the years as migration spreads throughout sending communities. These interconnecting social ties are characteristic of wellestablished transnational communities, and newcomers often rely on the information circulating among these social connections during the initial stage of settlement to find housing and locate jobs (Massey et al., 1987). Lacking financial and educational resources and in some cases, legal status, poor and less skilled migrants depend particularly on their more seasoned counterparts to alert them to any job openings in their workplaces (Hagan, 1994; Phillips & Massey, 2000; Waldinger & Lichter, 2003). Employers also benefit from the existence of social networks among ethnically based work crews. As Rodriguez (2004) points out in his article, an employer who relies on the social networks of their immigrant workers for recruitment and job training “saves on the costs of managing and maintaining a labor force, as the labor cost is reduced to mainly paying for work performed” (p. 455). Hernández-León (2004) demonstrates in his article how skilled and semiskilled migrant workers from Mexico benefit from social networks when it comes to finding a job in U.S. labor markets. Drawing on networks based on friendship, workplace, and residential ties developed from the home community of Monterrey, Mexico (p. 441), many of the workers in this rich case study successfully managed to transfer their industrial manufacturing skills to the Houston labor market, filling an occupational niche in the oil tools and technology industry. As Hernández-León reminds us, the United States has a long history of depending on agricultural workers from Mexico. The more recent labor market incorporation of industrial workers from Monterrey hints at the emergence of a new Mexican immigrant worker, one that HernándezLeón finds has broken into a skilled manufacturing labor market sector that is characterized in the scholarly literature as all but disappearing under the forces of economic restructuring in the United States. Hernández-León’s (2004) analysis of immigrant incorporation into the Houston labor market takes place within a context of urban industrial restructuring in Mexico, a process that has given rise to new international migratory streams of skilled and semiskilled labor. This textured analysis of economic restructuring at the source provides an optimistic view of immigrants’ ability to transfer manufacturing and operative skills and job experience into U.S. labor markets and as such, represents a refreshing balance to scholarship that focuses primarily on how recent economic restructuring in the United States has led to further U.S.–bound migration of low skilled workers (Sassen, 1988; Waldinger & Lichter, 2003). Hernández-León’s analysis of economic forces at the source draws the reader into the profiles and behaviors of a number of different social actors in Mexico, including state policy makers and



unions, two previously unexplored actors in sending countries that assume important roles in the production of migratory flows. The article by Rodriguez (2004), which focuses on the role of state and corporate actors in the context of economic restructuring on the U.S. side of the border, nicely complements the article by Hernández-León (2004). Rodriguez brings the role of U.S. employers and state policy makers to the forefront in a historical analysis that focuses on the segmented nature of immigrant work in the United States. As Rodriguez reminds us, under pressures from firms to protect the interests of capital, state policy makers have a long history of recruiting both low skilled and high skilled labor to the United States. Drawing on the particular case of the Bracero Program, Rodriguez persuasively shows how the coordinated efforts of state actors and employers led to the largest temporary guest worker program in the history of the United States and then discusses some of the social and economic consequences of the program. His analysis provides food for thought for the readership, as the governments of Mexico and the United States continue to discuss the possibility of another guest worker program targeting low skilled jobs. Rodriguez acknowledges that the contemporary role of the state in the recruitment of low skilled labor is an indirect one: The government looks askance at employers who knowingly hire unauthorized workers. In contrast, he shows that the state maintains an active and visible agenda, under pressure from various interest groups representing capital, when it comes to the recruitment of high skilled labor. His balanced study of the roles of the state and employers in the recruitment of high skilled and low skilled labor provides an interesting demand-side explanation for the segmented character of the work that immigrants do in U.S. labor markets. It also represents a timely and instructive discussion as Congressional leaders continue to wrestle over policies governing H1-B visa ceilings, employment-based immigrants, and temporary workers. RESEARCH DIRECTIONS As we press forward into the 21st century, the U.S. economy increasingly depends on immigrant labor. The share of foreign workers in the U.S. labor force is at an all time high; indeed, immigrant labor accounts for roughly half of the recent growth in the labor force. As the articles comprising this issue show, immigrants work in all occupational categories, and although they are disproportionately concentrated in low wage jobs, their earnings run the full gamut. Demographic changes in the U.S. population, economic restructuring in both source countries and the United States, well-established migrant social networks, along with the laws of supply and demand indicate that



immigrants will continue to contribute to the growth of the economy and U.S. labor force for years to come. The heavy flow of foreign workers into the U.S. economy, especially their concentration in low wage work, should fuel scholarly research in at least three key areas: (a) the impact of immigration on native earnings and jobs, (b) job quality and job mobility prospects for immigrants, and (c) the efficacy of immigration policy in recruiting and regulating immigrant labor. In 1990, Congress appointed a bipartisan commission on immigration reform to review and assess U.S. immigration policy. Five years later, this commission requested the National Academy of Sciences to convene a panel to study the demographic, economic, and fiscal effects of immigration. In their well-respected report, which was published in 1997, the panel concluded that “immigration produces new economic gains for residents.” Why? Because, they argued, “immigrants increase the supply of labor and help produce new goods and services. Because they are paid less than the total value of these goods and services, domestic workers as a group gain” (Smith & Edmonston, 1997, p. 4). The panel went on to conclude what decades of independent research has also documented, that “immigration has had a relatively small adverse impact on the wages and employment opportunities of competing native workers” (Smith & Edmonston, 1997, p. 7). The panel and subsequent scholarship, however, has found that the increased immigration of less skilled workers in recent years directly affects the labor market opportunities of immigrants themselves, especially earlier cohorts of less skilled immigrants (Bean, Fossett, & Van Hook, 1999; Smith & Edmonston, 1997). The article by Bean, Leach, and Lowell (2004) in this issue addresses this concern by focusing on the prospects for job mobility of immigrants in U.S. labor markets, especially the mobility prospects of those who arrive with few skills. The discussion takes place within the context of increasing inequality, as wealth and income have shifted in recent years in the United States. The polarization of jobs by skill level could spell bad news for newcomer immigrants with few skills who now must compete in a labor market overrun with poorly educated native workers as well as earlier immigrant arrivals. For example, in his analysis of census data over several decades, Borjas (1990, 2001) found that although immigrant workers do move up the ladder, their rate of mobility had been waning, in part because of the declining human capital skills of recent migrants, a finding also supported by the National Research Council (Smith & Edmonston, 1997). These findings are of pressing concern because they point to a widening gap in wages between foreign-born and native workers in the United States. Drawing on 1990 and 2000 census data, Bean, Leach, and Lowell (2004) revisit the issue of immigrant job mobility and provide a more optimistic



outlook for the future of immigrant workers than previous studies have suggested. They tackle the question of job mobility by disaggregating the employment experiences of cohorts and different racial and ethnic groups by nativity and gender. By introducing the ascribed status of nativity into their analyses, they find that all immigrants are not trapped in low paying jobs. Similarly, by examining cohort arrival data, the authors find that immigrants are experiencing upward mobility at all levels of jobs. Their findings indicate the labor-market outcomes of immigrants are more than a function of the human capital attributes they bring with them; just as important are the years of work experience that immigrants accrue in U.S. labor markets. As Bean, Leach, and Lowell remind us, this is good news in that it may indicate that although immigrants may not fare as well as natives with similar experience, newcomers of today may well resemble the earlier flows of Europeans who experienced mobility with increased experience in U.S. labor markets. The macroeconomic context of arrival and departure emerges as another important theme among these articles, one that needs more thorough research. As the articles by Rodriguez (2004) and Bean, Leach, and Lowell (2004) show, there is a substantial body of emergent scholarship that stresses the importance of economic restructuring in the United States in explaining how immigrants come to fill the positions they do in U.S. labor markets. Yet as the article by Hernández-León (2004) reminds us, scholars have paid scant attention to the crucial role that economic restructuring in source countries plays in producing migrant streams. Understanding the dynamics of particular periods of economic restructuring in source and host countries is essential in identifying the conditions under which migrants are displaced from old occupations and how they come to be inserted into new labor market structures. A final issue to bear in mind when reading the articles comprising this issue is what role, if any, immigration policy should play in the context of contemporary demographic and economic trends. Immigrants continue to come and work in the United States, despite efforts by the U.S. government to control their entry. Undocumented migrants in the United States now number roughly 9 million, the large majority of whom contribute to the U.S. economy in such unregulated low wage jobs as private household workers, yard workers, laborers, construction workers, janitors, and busboys, supporting the lifestyles of the professional classes. Despite the billions of dollars the U.S. government has pumped into border enforcement efforts in recent years, flows of undocumented workers persist, and U.S. employers continue to hire them, along with their legal counterparts, primarily because of their preference for foreign labor and a possible mismatch between domestic demand and supply. Rather than investing in unsuccessful border enforcement poli-



cies (U.S. General Accounting Office, 2001; Massey et al., 2002) or under pressure from capital, creating new temporary worker programs for skilled foreign labor to alleviate so-called shortages, it might make more sense for U.S. immigration policy to allow for the monitoring and regulation of legal and permanent channels for labor immigration at the professional, skilled, and unskilled levels. This method would also address national security concerns. Under a regulated system, migrants present themselves for inspection at point of entry, in contrast to the present system of clandestine entry. A second advantage to regulating the supply through legal channels is that it would put an end to the substantial financial costs associated with the current cat and mouse game at the border, thereby freeing up resources to keep better track of immigrants and visitors and to vigorously enforce state and federal labor laws to protect the rights, conditions, and opportunities of both domestic and foreign workers in U.S. labor markets. REFERENCES Altonji, J. J., & Card, D. (1991). The effects of immigration on the labor market outcomes of lessskilled natives. In J. Abowd & R. Freeman (Eds.), Immigration, trade, and labor market (pp. 201-234). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Bach, R. (2001). New dilemmas of policy making in transnational labor markets. In W. Cornelius, T. Espenshade, & I. Salehyan (Eds.), The international migration of the highly skilled (pp. 113130). San Diego, CA: University of California at San Diego, Center for Comparative Immigration Studies. Bean, F. D., Fossett, M., & Van Hook, J. (1999). Immigration, spatial and economic change, and African American employment. In F. Bean & S. Bell-Rose (Eds.), Immigration and opportunity: Race, ethnicity, and employment in the United States (pp. 31-63). New York: Russell Sage. Bean, F. D., Leach, M., & Lowell, B. L. (2004). Immigrant job quality and mobility in the United States. Work and Occupations, 31(4), 499-518. Bean, F. D., Lowell, B. L., & Taylor, L. J. (1988). Undocumented Mexican immigrants and the earnings of other workers. Demography, 25(1), 35-52. Bean, F. D., & Stevens, G. (2003). America’s newcomers and the dynamics of diversity. New York: Russell Sage. Borjas, G. (2001). Heaven’s door: Immigration policy and the American economy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Borjas, G. J. (1990). Friends or strangers: The impact of immigrants on the U.S. economy. New York: Basic Books. Boyd, M. (1989). Family and personal networks in international migration: Recent developments and new agendas. International Migration Review, 23(3), 638-670. Frey, W. (2003). Metropolitan magnets for international and domestic migrants. Washington, DC: Brookings Institute, Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy. Hagan, J. M. (1994). Deciding to be legal: A Maya community in Houston. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.



Hagan, J. M., & Baker, S. G. (1993). Implementing the U.S. legalization program: The influence of immigrant communities and local agencies on immigration policy reform. International Migration Review, 27(3), 513536. Hamilton, N., & Chinchilla, N. S. (2001). Seeking community in a global city: Guatemalans and Salvadorans in Los Angeles. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Harrison, B., & Bluestone, B. (1988). The great U-turn: Corporate restructuring and the polarization of America. New York: Basic Books. Hernández-León, R. (2004). Restructuring at the source: High-skilled industrial migration from Mexico to the United States. Work and Occupations, 31(4), 424-452. Hondagneu-Sotelo, P. (1994). Gendered transitions: Mexican experiences in immigration. Berkeley: University of California Press. Lowell, B. L. (Ed.). (1996). Foreign temporary workers in America: Policies that benefit the U.S. economy. Westport, CT: Quorum Books. Lowell, B. L. (2001). The foreign temporary workforce and shortages in information technology. In W. Cornelius, T. Espenshade, & I. Salehyan (Eds.), The international migration of the highly skilled (pp. 131-160). San Diego: University of California at San Diego, Center for Comparative Immigration Studies. Lowell, B. L., & Gerova, S. G. (2004). Immigrants and the healthcare workforce: Profiles and shortages. Work and Occupations, 31(4), 474-498. Martin, P. (1996). Promises to keep: Collective bargaining in California agriculture. Ames: Iowa State University Press. Massey, D., Alarcón, R., Durand, J., & González, H. (1987). Return to Aztlan: The social process of international migration from western Mexico. Berkeley: University of California Press. Massey, D. S., Durand, J., & Malone, N. J. (2002). Beyond smoke and mirrors: Mexican immigration in an era of economic integration. New York: Russell Sage. Menjivar, C. (2000). Fragmented ties: Salvadoran immigrant networks in America. Berkeley: University of California Press. Mosisa, A. (2002). The role of foreign-born workers in the U.S. economy. Monthly Labor Review, 125(5), 3-14. Phillips, J., & Massey, D. (2000). Engines of immigration: Stocks of human and social capital in Mexico. Social Science Quarterly, 81(1), 33-48. Rodriguez, N. (1987). Undocumented Central Americans in Houston: Diverse populations. International Migration Review, 21(1), 4-25. Rodriguez, N. (2004). “Workers wanted:” Employer recruitment of immigrant labor. Work and Occupations, 31(4), 453-473. Rodriguez, N., & Hagan, J. (1999). Central Americans in the United States. In A. G. Dworkin & R. Dworkin (Eds.), Minority report: An introduction to race, ethnic and gender relations (pp. 278-296). Dallas, TX: Harcourt Brace. Sassen, S. (1988). The mobility of labor and capital: A study in international investment and labor flow. UK: Cambridge University Press. Singer, A. (2004). The rise of new immigrant gateways. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy. Smith, J., & Edmonston, B. (Eds.). (1997). The new Americans: Economic, demographic, and fiscal effects of immigration. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Smith, M. P. (1996). The new high-tech Braceros: Who is the employer? What is the problem? In B. L. Lowell (Ed.), Foreign temporary workers in America: Policies that benefit the U.S. economy (pp. 119-147). Westport, CT: Quorum Books. Sum, A., Fogg, N., Harrington, P., Khatiwada, I., Trub’sky, M., & Palma, S. (2002). Immigrant workers and the great American job machine: The contributions of new foreign immigration



to national and regional labor force growth in the 1990s. Boston: Northeastern University, Center for Labor Market Studies. U.S. Bureau of the Census. (2003). Foreign-born population of the United States current population survey—March 2000, revised detailed tables—weighted to census 2000 (PPL-160). Retrieved May 1, 2004, from ppl-160.html U.S. Bureau of the Census. (2004). U.S. interim projections by age, sex, race and Hispanic origin. Retrieved June 1, 2004, from U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (2003). Yearbook of immigration statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. U.S. General Accounting Office. (2001). INS Southwest border strategy: Resource and impact issues remain after seven years. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Waldinger, R., & Lichter, M. (2003). How the other half lives: Immigration and the social organization of labor. Berkeley: University of California Press. Zuniga, V., & Hernández-León, R. (Eds.). (in press). New destinations of Mexican immigration in the United States: Community formation, local responses and inter-group relations. New York: Russell Sage.

Jacqueline Maria Hagan is associate professor of sociology and codirector of the Center for Immigration Research at the University of Houston. Her research interests include international migration, social policy, religion, and human rights. She is author of Deciding to Be Legal and is currently writing a second book in which she traces the role of religion in the migration journey. She has been an ongoing collaborator in the Center for Immigration Research’s study of deaths of undocumented migrants during their journey to the United States. She has written extensively on the effects of the 1996 Immigration Act on the rights and opportunities of immigrants and their families in the United States and is currently participating in a project on treatment and detention of persons deported from the United States.

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