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Open Access Publications from the University of California

In affiliation with ISSI, the Center for Latino Policy Research (CLPR) was established in 1989 in response to the policy challenges of limited educational and economic opportunities facing the Chicano and Latino population. CLPR's current research interest focuses on immigration, access to higher education, and political participation. CLPR also provides public policy internships for undergraduates as well as mini-grant/research opportunities for graduate students.

Cover page of Guatemalan Immigration to San Francisco Bay Area

Guatemalan Immigration to San Francisco Bay Area


Increasing numbers of Central Americans, primarily from El Salvador and Guatemala, began arriving in the United States in the early 1980s, fleeing brutal military repression and counterinsurgency efforts in their home countries (Hamilton and Chinchilla-Stoltz 1991, 1998; Julian 1994; Bens 1996; Burns 1988). The Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) concludes that 200,000 people were killed or disappeared, and that state forces and related paramilitary groups onslaught, from 1981 to 1983, as many as 1.5 million people were displaced internally or had to fee the country, including about 150,000 who sought refuge in Mexico (CEH 1999, 30). The Guatemalan Peace Accords in 1996 signaled an end to overt hostilities but no to bitter social tensions, political violence, stark inequality, and severe economic hardship, all of which fuel emigration pressures.

Numerous scholars have documented the factor contributing to immigration, particularly the critical connections between economic and poltical motivations (Richmond 1986; Chávez 1998; Chinchilla, Hamilton, and Loucky 1993; Fagen 1988; Hagan 1994; Vlach 1992; Porters and Back 1985). Guatemalans, however, add a unique sociocultural dimension to migration flows. Unlike that of other Central American nations, more than half of Guatemala’s population is indigenous, from various Maya ethnolinguistic groups, adding complex issues of identity to the immigration experience.

In this study, we explore the stages of migration through an ethnographic study of Guatemalan migrants to the San Francisco Bay Area. Our study first examines the demanding preparatory phase either in Guatemala or the refugee camps of Mexico, then the perilous journey north, and finally the arduous process of settlement in the United States. Two themes intersect throughout the journey: the role of social networks and issues of identity. In our research, we found that social networks are pivotal through all stages of migration and, in turn, interests with fluid, changing conceptions of identity.

Cover page of From Servants To Engineers: Mexican Immigration And Labor Markets In The San Francisco Bay Area

From Servants To Engineers: Mexican Immigration And Labor Markets In The San Francisco Bay Area


This working paper examines the relationship between the transformation of labor markets and the role of immigrant workers in a regional context. It analyzes the participation of Mexican immigrants in the labor markets of the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1980s, using data from the Bureau of the Census (Public Use Microdata Samples). In order to analyze employment trends, the paper compares the performance of three groups: native-born, Asian immigrants, and Mexican immigrants.

The study focuses on tow Bay Area counties that experienced a very high influx of immigrants during the 1980s: Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties. Santa Clara County is home to the Silicon Valley, the most successful high-technology region in the world. The labor demands of Silicon Valley have attracted both highly educated and unskilled immigrants. Contra Costa County, with a history of using Mexican-origin agricultural labor, has recently seen the rapid growth of such sectors as finance, insurance, and real estate that have produced new labor demands.

The results that the constant demand for immigrant labor, the formation of “daughter communities” , and the implementation of immigration policies have led to the consolidation of the Bay Area as an ensemble of fragmented ethnic communities that have secured access to distinct niches in the labor market. Asian immigrants, who seem to follow the employment patterns of native-born workers, find jobs in the most dynamic sectors of the regional economy, while most Mexican immigrants obtain jobs in more traditional sectors such as construction, agriculture, and personal services. Some highly educated Mexican immigrants have also responded to the labor demands created by the development of the high technology sector in Silicon Valley.

Cover page of Working but Poor: Mexican Immigrant Workers in a Low-Income Enclave in San Jose

Working but Poor: Mexican Immigrant Workers in a Low-Income Enclave in San Jose


Over the past 40 years, the city of San Jose, in the Santa Clara Valley of northern California, has experienced explosive population and economic growth, fueled by the development of the high-technology industries. Along with the need for large numbers of engineering, technical, and managerial workers, the rapid industrialization of the Santa Clara Valley generated a huge demand for workers in unskilled, low-wage occupations, especially in the manufacturing assembly and maintenance service sector. This vast supply of unskilled, low-wage jobs played a central role in attracting immigrant workers to the region, especially from Mexico and Central America. As Latino immigrant workers have settled in San Jose, there has been an expansion of low-income urban enclave, especially in the Eastside where most of these workers live. In contrast to urban slums resulting from economic decline, these poor immigrant enclaves are the relatively new result of the successful, but highly unequal, economic development generated by the so-called Silicon Valley’s high-technology industries.

This study is based on ethnographic fieldwork; it seeks to describe and analyze the experiences of a group of Mexican immigrant workers and families who live in low-income barrio in San Jose that we call Benfield. The study reveals that Mexican immigrant workers, both legal and undocumented, in Benfield are concentrated in precisely those labor-intensive, low-income jobs that since the early 1980s have proliferated at one of the highest growth rates in the region. We argue that the use of immigrants as a source of flexible, disposable labor in several light-manufacturing and service industries in Silicon Valley is the primary factor that keeps a large segment of immigrant families trapped in poverty, despite there being more than one full-time worker in the family. We show that the subsistence of immigrant workers and their families depends on several strategies for coping with poverty: extended households and dense social networks; informal income-generating activities supplementing the low wages in the formal sector; and material and economic assistance from charities and, residents are eligible, government institutions.

We argue that in the absence of state and local government policies, today’s Latino immigrant poor could become further impoverished and their communities evolve into areas of concentrated poverty. The challenge is to develop a comprehensive set of coherent, well-orchestrated state policies that address not only the complex consequences but also the root causes of the problems that afflict working poor immigrant families and the barrios where they live. Our policy recommendations have two goals: first—and this is the main front where the battle against the growth in the number of working-poor immigrants must be fought—to decrease the comparative advantage of exploiting undocumented immigrant labor, second, to develop specific state policies tailored to low-income Latino immigrant communities, policies that, in light of the economic and demographic changes that have been taking place in California over the past few decades, are long overdue.

Cover page of Obstacles to Labor Market Progress of California's Mexican-Origin Workers

Obstacles to Labor Market Progress of California's Mexican-Origin Workers


Mexican immigrants and persons of Mexican descent constitute an important and rapidly growing segment of California’s labor force (18 percent in 1990, up from 13 percent in 1980). They are also among the most economically disadvantaged workers in California: in 1989, Mexican-origin households earned on average 33 percent less than non-Hispanic white households, 30 percent less than Asian households, and 6 percent less than black households.

Disagreement persists over the prospects for Mexican Americans joining the economic mainstream of American society. Chavez (1991) claims that the large inflows of recent immigrants from Mexico create a deceptively pessimistic picture of Mexican-origin workers in the U.S. labor market, and that U.S.-born, English-speaking Mexican Americans have enjoyed rapid progress over the last couple of decades and are approaching the labor market status of non-Hispanic whites. According to Chavez, Mexican Americans are making steady progress towards economic parity with Anglos, and he worries about the emergence of a Chicano underclass with many of the same problems faced by inner-city blacks.

Using national Current Population Survey data from November 1979 and 1989 and Census data from 1990 for California and Texas, I shed light on the this debate by analyzing in detail the wage structure and relative earning power of U.S.-born Mexican-American men.

Cover page of Community-Based Health Promotion / Disease Prevention Programs for Latina/Latino Youth in California: Comparative Analysis and Policy Recommendations

Community-Based Health Promotion / Disease Prevention Programs for Latina/Latino Youth in California: Comparative Analysis and Policy Recommendations


This study examines key characteristics and external factors that influence health promotion and disease (HPD) programs serving Latina and Latino (L/L) youth. It also explores challenges associated with program development, sustainability, and the relative capacity to respond to historical and emergent problems experienced by this population.

California is experiencing an increase in risk behaviors among L/L youth at a time when there are significant pressures to limit public sector funding for health and social programs. L/L youth are increasing more rapidly than any other ethnic youth cohort; by the year 2000 they will comprise 39% of all California youth. This rapid population growth is accompanied by an increase in poverty and deterioration in L/L quality of life. By 1991, Latinas under 20 were twice as likely as non-Latina Whites to commence childbearing, and Latinas comprised 56.6% of all unmarried mothers under 20 in California; a 10% increase since 1998. A California studying 1994 indicated that L/L youth have the highest overall licit and illicit drug use rates, and these rates had increased from a previous survey conducted in 1991. Recent California juvenile arrest statistics also showed Latinos constitute the highest proposition of felony, misdemeanor, and status offenses. Second generation L/L adolescents are especially at high risk for early pregnancies, drug use, and committing juvenile offenses.

This study was motivated by the apparent urgency represented by these trends, and the need to enhance the capacity of our urban and rural communities to foster healthy lifestyles among L/L youth; thereby increasing the likelihood that they will become substantive contributors to the commonweal. It was also motivated by an awareness of chronic problems faced by public institutions and community-based programs that serve these youth. These problems range from a lack of continuity in funding patterns and program objectives to an inability to involve community residents, develop substantive inter-sectoral linkages, and carry out necessary institutional reforms.

Recommendations include the allocation of targeted funds and provisions of technical assistance to enhance the cultural content, expand leadership development components, and strengthen the collaborative capacity of existing programs; enhancement of linkages to private sector resources; and the enhancement of statewide capacity to develop and monitor youth HPD programs and conduct relevant policy research.

Cover page of Labor Force Position of Latino Immigrants in California

Labor Force Position of Latino Immigrants in California


This report examines the labor force position of Latina and Latino immigrants in California. There has been considerable immigration from Latin America throughout the 20th century, with much of this migration coming from Mexico. In the last 20 years, immigration from Central and South America has increased significantly. How immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries fare in the U.S. economic system is a critical research and policy issue. Prior research points to the particular low status position of Latino immigrants in the labor force (Morales and Ong, 1993). Immigrants are typically concentrated in low wage manufacturing jobs, particularly in the garment, plastic, and furniture industries, as well as in low level service jobs, such as restaurant workers, janitors, and private household workers.

Overall, it was found that individual factors—especially education and English language ability—were important in explaining the especially disadvantaged position of non-citizen immigrants. Moreover, individual and structural factors had a strong direct effect on the labor position for both men and women while family characteristics were more important for Latinas than Latinos. We found that gender differences in labor force position were pervasive, with Latinas consistently in a lower status position than their male counterparts.

These findings suggest a number of policies that could be implemented to assist in improving the labor position of Latinos and Latinas.

Cover page of Story Telling Out of School: Undocumented College Residency, Race, and Reaction

Story Telling Out of School: Undocumented College Residency, Race, and Reaction


This essay is a Rashomon-like case, in which students wanted to attend college.  It is alternatively an admissions case, an immigration matter, a taxpayer suit, a state civil procedure issues, an issue of preemption,  a question of tuition and higer education finance, a civil rights, case, and a political issue.  

Cover page of Public Opinion Toward Immigration Reform: How Much Does the Economy Matter?

Public Opinion Toward Immigration Reform: How Much Does the Economy Matter?


The United States, a self-styled nation of immigrants, is debating its outlook toward newcomers once again. The policies of increased immigration and expanded legal and political rights for immigrants ushered in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (Lemay 1987; Shuck and Smith 1985) are under attack. Today, the political landscape is littered with proposals to reduce immigration, seal the border with Mexico, and reduce government expenditures by limiting the access of both legal and illegal immigrants to government services and benefits. As the policy conflict intensifies, politicians and interest groups on both sides of the issues are striving to shape mass opinion with arguments about the value and cost of immigration (Clad 1994; Passell and Fix 1994).

This paper thus focuses on the foundations of public support for restrictionist demands. In this context, our principal concern is the precise role of economic motive in determining policy preferences. This analytic question has obvious political relevance. The large-scale influx of people striving to improve their lot necessarily influences the economy of the receiving country. Today, as in the past, advocates of restricting immigration content that newcomers displace native workers in the labor market and create a fiscal drain by costing the government more in services than they pay in taxes. Accordingly, the extent to which opinions about immigration originates in economic concerns should indicate how votes are likely to respond to the heated argument over these claims (Huddle 1993; Passell 1994; Borjas 1990; Simon 1989; Vedder and Galloway 1994).

Whatever the economic impacts of immigration, it is also a process that brings ethnic “strangers” into “our” midst. From a theoretical perspective, immigration policy therefore constitutes another excellent case for studying the effects of the interplay between the strategic calculation of personal costs and benefits on the one hand, and commitments to enduring values on the other, on preference formation on policy questions (Citrin and Green 1990; Sears and Funk 1990; Green 1992; Stoker 1992). After testing hypotheses about economic motivations, we thus briefly consider how a symbolic politics model emphasizing the role of cultural attitudes can be extended to the immigration issue.

Cover page of Immigration and Colonia Formation in Rural California

Immigration and Colonia Formation in Rural California


This study goes beyond previous studies of Latino immigration, employment in agriculture and related conditions to examine the transformation of whole communities into “colonias” and the impact of Latino concentration on California’s rural areas. Over 140 communities are studies with over 25 facts collected on each community covering Census information on population and socio-economic conditions. The study uses simple regression and cross-sectional analysis to consider whether “colonias” are experiencing possible “underclass” conditions and/ or “exploitation” of rural Latinos and farm workers. On the other hand, the study also examines the possibility that Latinos are developing the positive enclave conditions of self-employment and private business activities in places where they are the majority. In general, we find that colonias are becoming impoverished communities of largely Spanish-speaking laborers and that the challenges facing colonos (the residents of “colonias”) are dim, offering few prospects for youth. We do not find many signs of “ethnic-economy enclaves,” wherein Latinos become more self-employed and develop local business, nor do we find positive fiscal conditions in “colonias” as compared to other rural communities where Latinos are in the minority. Colonias are growing in number and in their dependence on rural employment. They are places in need of much more research and analysis in order to address emerging issues for nineties.