Labor Emigration to the Southwest, 1916 to 1920:
Mexican Attitudes and Policy
LAWRENCE A. CARDOSO*
ROM 1916 TO 1920 THE GOVERNMENT OF VENUSTIANO CARRANZA,
first chief of the Constitutionalist Army and president of Mexico,
attempted to slow down and regulate the exodus of Mexican laborers to
the United States. This policy consisted of two major thrusts: advising
would-be emigrants of the pitfalls which awaited them and protecting those
workers already across the border. Despite their efforts, Mexican authorities
could do little to keep their fellow citizens at home. Economic developments
in both nations provided a continuous impetus to emigration. In the United
States the expanding agricultural areas of the Southwest and the economic
mobilization brought on by World War I necessitated the immediate
importation of hundreds of thousands of unskilled workers. Mexico's
revolution-wracked economy gave added cause for workers to flee their
native land for the security of the United States. Carranza and other
governmental officials sought to protect Mexicans in the United States
once it became evident that administrative controls were not sufficient to
keep nationals at home. This protective policy was severely restricted
because of lack of funds and shortage of consular personnel, but did meet
with some success, particularly in the areas of employer-employee disputes
and difficulties with officials of the United States Selective Service system.
Emigration to the United States increased rapidly from 1916 to 1920.
In Mexico, the revolution begun by Francisco I. Madero on November
20, I9I0, initiated a decade of inflation, violence, and anarchy. The
revolution uprooted and scattered hundreds of thousands of panic-stricken
families. Few persons, peasant or landlord, could be assured of personal
safety because of the destruction of age-old institutions and relationships.
The near collapse of agricultural production resulted when the wholesale
flight of peons left a labor force insufficient in size to tend crops and herds.
*Mr. Cardoso is assistant professor of history at the University of Wyoming. Research
in Mexican archives was made possible by a grant from the Doherty Foundation, and a
fellowship from the University of Wyoming allowed the time necessary to complete this
article. The author thanks both institutions for their support.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 79, July 1975 - April, 1976. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101203/. Accessed May 24, 2013.