Immigration from Latin America and Caribbean
Today, Latin Americans are the largest immigrant group in the United States. During the 1980s eight million immigrants came from Latin America, nearly equal to the total figure of European immigrants who came to the U.S. during the first decade of the 20th century. (Suárez-Orozco & Sommer, 2000, p. 4) According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are an estimated 31 million Latinos in the United States, comprising about 11.2 percent of the total population. Immigration from Latin America has become the most significant immigration spread during the second half of the twentieth century with immigrants coming from all over the continent: "Of the top ten "sender" countries in the last decade, four are Latin American and Caribbean: Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Jamaica; in the next ten are Haiti, El Salvador, Colombia and Peru". (Suárez-Orozco & Sommer, 2000, p. 3)

The goal of this website is to provide information about Latin American and Caribbean immigration to teachers and students in the U.S. studying the different immigrant groups. Further it would help them understand better the causes of Mexican immigration which is the largest immigrant group to the U.S.

Three major sources document the demographic trends of immigrants to the United States:

  • the Annual Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)
  • the Annual Statistical Abstract of the United States
  • the decennial U.S. Census

The use of this data has been limited for two reasons:

  • the sources compile the information differently (for example, they group people under different ethnic categories), making comparison of data difficult.
  • the sources tend to undercount undocumented immigrants in compiling this data. Therefore, Latin American governments and scholars note that the numbers published by the U.S. government do not accurately reflect the real size of the immigrant population in the United States.

Immigrants and Undocumented Immigrants:
Immigrants to the U.S. from Latin America and the Caribbean include those people born in the United States who trace their ancestry to Latin American or Caribbean countries, as well as those born in Latin America and the Caribbean who have migrated to the U.S., including naturalized citizens, legal immigrants, or undocumented immigrants. The U.S.. Department of Justice Immigration and Naturalization Service has more detailed definitions. An undocumented immigrant is a person without proper documents showing legal entry into the United States. Although an undocumented immigrant could be someone who accidentally misplaced their passport, this term is generally used to mean illegal alien (Paludeine, 1998). An accurate assessment of undocumented immigration is difficult to find. Suárez-Orozco (1999), Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has offered the following estimate:

After an exhaustive review of the data, the blue-ribbon National Research Council (NRC) panel on the new immigration concluded that an average 200,000 to 400,000 new illegal immigrants enter the USA every year. The panel estimates that the total population of illegal immigrants in the USA today is between 2 and 4 million people (National Research Council, 1997). In recent years it is estimated that about half of all illegal aliens in the United States enter through the US-Mexico Southern sector. Among those who ‘enter without inspection’, the great majority are Mexicans and Central Americans (Gonzalez Baker et al., 1998). The other half is ‘visa over stayer’. They typically fly into US international airports with proper documents and simply overstay their permits, This is an extremely heterogeneous population. Most U.S. citizens would find it surprising that today Canadians constitute an important group of illegal immigrants in the USA (p. 227).
Famous Immigrants
Distinguished first, second and third generation immigrants from Latin America have contributed to American cultural, scientific, and political life(Meier, Serri, & García, 1997; Kanellos, 1997) Famous immigrants include:

Luis Walter Alvarez (1910-1988) Becomes the first U.S. born Latino to win the Nobel Prize for Physics.

José Angel Gutiérrez (1944-) and others founded La Raza Unida (The United Race) the first successful third party, which is also the first Mexican American political party in Texas.

Fernando Bujones (1955-) Cuban American classical dancer who was the first American to win the gold medal at the prestigious International Ballet Competition at Varna, Bulgaria.

Oscar Hijuelos (1951-) Cuban American writer who won the 1990 Pulitzer prize in fiction for The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.

Rita Moreno (1931-) Puerto Rican actress, dancer, singer, comedian who is the only entertainer in the world that has won all four awards in the show business: Oscar (1962), Grammy (1972), Tony (1975) and two Emmy's awards (1977)

Celia Cruz (1920s-) Cuban American singer and entertainer who contributes to the popularity of Salsa in the U.S. and worldwide, awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

Dr. Américo Paredes (1915-) Mexican American folklorist scholar awarded with the distinguished Charles Frankel Prize by the National Endowment for the Humanities for his long contribution to the Humanities.

César Chávez- (1927-1993) Mexican American Social Activist recognized worldwide for his commitment to workers in harvest agriculture, honored by President Bill Clinton with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award.

Mariah Carey (1970-) Venezuelan American recognized as a worldwide singer and lyricist of popular music, who won Grammies as Best New Artist and Best Female Pop vocalist.

Henry Cisneros (1947-) Mexican American political leader and business man who was Secretary of Housing and Urban development in President Clinton's cabinet advocating projects to reduce suburban public housing concentration of minorities.

Oscar de la Renta (1932-) Dominican American fashion designer who was the first American selected to direct the House of Balmain in Paris.

Tito Puente (1923-2000) Puerto Rican musician, composer, timbalist and one of the pioneers of Latin Jazz who won four Grammy awards and was honored by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers for his contributions to the music world.

Mario Molina ( 1943-) Native of Mexico, researcher and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, shares the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with two others.

Aida Alvarez- (1950-) First Latino woman, and the first person of Puerto Rican heritage, to serve as a member of the President's Cabinet. Head of the U.S. Small Businesses Administration (SBA) in Clinton's Government.

Kanellos, N. (1997). Hispanics First: 500 years of extraordinary achievement. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink Press.

S.Meier, M., Serri, C. F., & Garcia, R. A. (1997). Notable Latino Americans: A bibliographical dictionary. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Suárez-Orozco, M. (1999). Latin American Immigration to the United States. In V. Bulmer-Thomas & J. Dunkerly (Eds.), The United States and Latin America: The New Agenda (pp. 2-5). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Suárez-Orozco, M., & Sommer, D. (2000). Becoming Latinos. DRCLAS News, 2-5.

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