Impacts of Railroad Expansion on Immigration part 2 and Labor Re


The railroads had become an extremely essential commodity that allowed Mexican laborers to travel north cheaper and faster as well as the means to support new U.S. towns/cities and to expand trade to new markets. The developing towns along the border in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona utilized the railroad networks that were built cooperatively by Mexico and the United States. By the late 1920s Mexicans also constituted an estimated 75 percent of all unskilled construction workers in Texas.[1] The development of Mexican communities along the border was crucial to the development of the Southwest economy and the integration of Mexican and Chicanos[2] into mainstream American society. Without the construction of railroad networks that commenced in the 1870s and continued into the twentieth century the large-scale immigrations would have taken more time and may not have positively impacted or strengthened the southwestern economy. That the railroads were particularly instrumental in fanning Mexican immigration between 1876 and 1920 cannot be disputed.

Immigrant Labor Restrictions


When the United States government decided to expand its spheres of influence as well as trade routes, for example building railroads to Mexico, the government usually took a pragmatic initiative toward immigrant labor. The government did not want to frustrate the North American contractor in the exploration for a large and sustainable labor supply in big-industry in the southwest, which were the railroads, mining as well as the agricultural industries, soon after they had realized the benefits of Mexican labor and utilized such resources.[3] Upon the increased inflow of Mexican laborers in the early twentieth century, immigration restrictions were imposed to regulate them. Soon thereafter when there were labor shortages, the United States government had no problem altering legislation to obtain sufficient labor.

            As an example of the above in 1918 the United States government was forced to alleviate some immigration restrictions again in order to permit Mexican immigrant laborers to cross the border to solve a cheap labor shortage in the Southwest, To aid in meeting the present shortage in unskilled labor, Secretary of Labor Wilson has issued a departmental order temporarily removing restrictions on the importation of Mexican labor.[4] The ability of the government to alleviate such restrictions shows the importance of the labor contributions and more importantly is the underlying fact that railroads had aided Mexican immigrant laborers to Texas and other parts of the southwest. Though this bill had some restrictions in order to regulate the inflow of Mexican laborers, it nevertheless showed the need for Mexican migrant labor in the Southwest as well as the actions that the United States government would pursue to attain it. Many of the industries that had needed such labor were in agricultural pursuits, in railroad section maintenance, and in lignite coal mining.[5] These industries provided the basis of economic industry in Texas and the southwest in general that ultimately led to further economic expansion and progress in the southwest regions of North America.

[1] Gutierrez, 46.

[2] The Chicano is an individual of Mexican-American descent that is an American citizen.

[3] Navarro, 44.

[4] Mexican Aliens to Enter, The New York Times, June 20, 1918, 4.

[5] Mexican Aliens to Enter, June 1918, 4. 

Uploaded 03/22/2009
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