A whole new ball game: An analysis of the legalization processes faced by Mexican migrants to the United States in the post -Bracero era

Nolan J Malone, University of Pennsylvania


While commonly accepted that Mexican migration is often cyclical in nature, in which Mexican migrants travel to the United States to satisfy specific goals then return to their origin communities upon completion, few analyses of migration acknowledge the dynamic nature of legal status among migrants, which can fluctuate throughout the migratory career. This research finds that 42 percent of multiple-trip Mexican migrants experience changes to legal status during their travels. Additionally, among those unauthorized migrants who changed statuses, roughly 30 percent did so by means of the amnesty provision of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, another 30 percent via the Special Agricultural Worker provision of the same legislation and the remaining 40 percent by other means. In addition to providing evidence of the phenomenon, I demonstrate the potential importance of legal status among the major theories of migration. Further, I document the influence of contemporary ideologies on public policy regarding legalization. Using Mexican Migration Project data, I test a hypothesis of three forces of legalization—Motivation, Access and Eligibility—which dictate the probabilities of eventual legalization among unauthorized Mexican migrants. I situate examinations of this hypothesis by implementing three methodologies: descriptive statistics, classification trees and logistic regressions. Further, I situate each analysis within a specific policy period under which differing immigration conditions existed: Quote Period (1965 to 1976), Preference Period (1977 to 1986), IRCA Period (1987 to 1992), and NAFTA Period (1993 to 1999). Findings show little support for the effects of Motivation among legalization outcomes in any policy period, but substantial returns to Eligibility components, most notably accumulated experience in the United States. Elements of Access have mixed results, but show consistent positive returns to social ties. This research provides substantial justification for the inclusion of legal status characteristics within migration data and underscores the need for greater consideration of dynamic legal statuses within studies of migration, especially among Mexican nationals.

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Recommended Citation

Malone, Nolan J, "A whole new ball game: An analysis of the legalization processes faced by Mexican migrants to the United States in the post -Bracero era" (2004). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3152082.