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Presentation Immigration and Relocation in U.S. History

A Growing Community

Bridge-El Paso to Juarez, 1910

Mexican immigration in the 20th century came in three great surges of growth. The first surge began in the 1900s. Revolution in Mexico and a strong U.S. economy brought a tremendous increase in Mexican immigration rates. Between 1910 and 1930, the number of Mexican immigrants counted by the U.S. census tripled from 200,000 to 600,000. The actual number was probably far greater. El Paso, Texas, served as the Mexican Ellis Island--a gateway to a different life for Mexican immigrants and a powerful symbol of change and survival for their children and grandchildren.

For many Mexican immigrants, moving to the U.S. was not necessarily a one-time journey of permanent relocation. Since the distance was so short, Mexican citizens could return home relatively easily, and many did so--because of improved conditions in Mexico, because of family concerns, or because they had earned enough money to live more comfortably. In the 1910s and 1920s, it is estimated that more than 1 million Mexican immigrants returned to Mexico.

In the end, though, we can't know for certain exactly how much immigration from Mexico occurred during this period. Because of the length and openness of the U.S.-Mexican border, a great deal of immigration took place outside of legal channels. Undocumented immigrants tended to live on the margins of society and were especially vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers, or by the coyotes, or guides, who smuggled them across the border. The lack of documentation also makes it impossible for us to know exactly how great this surge of immigration really was.