Study suggests Mexican Americans have received less government aid than European immigrants in the early 1900s

An op-ed from two sociologists that discusses social science research on the assimilation of immigrant Mexicans includes one study about the governmental aid received by two large groups of immigrants:

No one should underestimate the challenges Mexicans from a humble background face when they move to the U.S. — especially in today’s economy, in which low-skilled jobs are scarce. Their children can face ethnic prejudices. They often do not have access to top-quality education.

But even in light of the struggles, it is important to highlight the progress of many Mexican Americans. Indeed, they have made this uphill climb in spite of greater challenges than those faced by earlier, European immigrants. An extensive historical study published by sociologist Cybelle Fox in 2012 shows that Europeans who came at the turn of the 20th century were far more likely to receive government aid than Mexicans or blacks, regardless of need. Local relief officials also protected European immigrants from federal agents who were investigating public aid recipients during the Depression. In stark contrast, officials repatriated Mexican immigrants and their U.S.-born offspring, who also faced Jim Crow-like racism in many parts of the country.

The end argument is that Mexican immigrants have faced some steeper hurdles than European immigrants, including in levels of government support, in the early 1900s and have done well. It would then be interesting to hear how people interpret this historical information. A common refrain among white Americans is that their ancestors had to work hard and do certain things to succeed in America. Thus, new immigrants should similarly pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Yet, circumstances change. Immigration has changed quite a bit since the early 1900s, particularly due to the 1965 Immigration Act that helped increase immigrant flows from non-European areas. Who is thought to be white has changed and will likely continue to change.

All of this is a reminder that immigration policy and reactions to immigrants is variable and dependent on social conditions in both the sending and receiving country.

At the same time, this op-ed doesn’t mention other sociological research on different outcomes for immigrants beyond assimilation into some sort of “normal” white, American culture. In the last few decades, a number of sociologists have found evidence of segmented assimilation where different immigrants have different experiences. For example, more educated immigrants may be more able to experience upward mobility compared to immigrants who have few job skills. Or, certain groups are treated differently than others because of existing stereotypes and policies. Assimilation may not be possible or desired for some immigrants.

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