Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the contributions and influence of Hispanic Americans to the history, culture, and achievements for the United States. Hispanics have played important roles throughout our nation’s history and Hispanic communities make up a significant portion of the U.S. population. According to the 2020 Census, Latinos account for over half of the country’s population growth in the past decade, reaching 62.1 million, or 18.7% of the total population in 2020. 

Today we are looking back at some key immigration moments in the history of Hispanic-Americans. We celebrate the histories of those that came before us and honor their struggles, challenges, and triumphs. 

Mexico Revolution Drives Immigration to US


The long and violent Mexican Revolution causes a surge of Mexicans to cross the U.S. border, with El Paso, Texas, serving as “Mexican Ellis Island,” according to the Library of Congress. The U.S. census finds Mexican immigrants to have tripled in population between 1910 and 1930, from 200,000 to 600,000.

Feb. 5, 1917

Congress overrides a veto by President Woodrow Wilson to pass the Immigration Act of 1917, the first sweeping legislation to limit immigration in America. Also referred to as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act and the Literacy Act, it bans immigrants from most Asian countries. It also includes a literacy test for all immigrants older than 16, requiring them to read English or another listed language for entry, and bars convicted criminals, alcoholics, anarchists, those with contagious diseases and epileptics.

Mexicans entering the United States. United States immigration station, El Paso, Texas
1938 June. Photographer: Dorothea Lange. Source: Library of Congress

Puerto Ricans Granted US Citizenship

March 2, 1917

President Wilson signs the Jones-Shafroth Act, granting U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans and creating a bicameral legislature in the island territory. With the United States about to enter World War I, it also gives America a stronghold and allows Puerto Ricans to join the U.S. Army. Eventually, 20,000 Puerto Ricans are drafted to serve during the conflict, many charged with guarding the important Panama Canal.

May 28, 1924

Congress creates the Border Patrol, part of the Department of Labor’s Immigration Bureau, as established in the Labor Appropriation Act of 1924. In 1925, its patrol areas include the seacoast, and later, in 1932, it is divided with one director in charge of the Canadian border, and one in charge of the Mexico border.

Mexican Farm Labor Agreement

Topeka, Kansas. Two Mexican workers employed at the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad locomotive shops. 1943 Mar. Photographer: Jack Delano. Source: Library of Congress.

Aug. 4, 1942

The U.S. and Mexico sign the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement, called the Bracero Program, America’s biggest guest-worker program created to avoid labor shortages during the war that would go on to last more than two decades until 1964. The controversial program allows manual workers (braceros) from Mexico to work in the United States short-term, mostly in agriculture, with basic protections, such as a minimum wage, insurance and free housing, although those standards were not ignored by employers.

Supreme Court Prohibits Segregation for Mexican-American Students

April 14, 1947

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals makes a landmark ruling prohibiting segregation in California public schools in Mendez v. Westminster School District. In the case, the family of Sylvia Mendez, then 9, and others sued four school districts for being denied entrance to Westminster Elementary School because they were Mexican. The ruling sets precedent for the historic Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case seven years later.

June 9, 1954

President Dwight D. Eisenhower institutes “Operation Wetback,” a controversial mass deportation using a racial slur, in which the government rounds up more than 1 million people. Blaming illegal immigrants for low wages, the raids start in California and Arizona, and, according to a publication in the U.S. House of Representatives archives, disrupt agriculture. Funding runs out after a few months, bringing the operation to an end.

Civil Rights Act of 1964

July 2, 1964

The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 becomes law, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and outlawing discrimination based on race, sex, religion, color or national origin. The act also creates the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to enforce federal job discrimination laws. One immediate effect of the act: an end to segregated facilities requiring Black Americans and Mexican-Americans to use only designated areas.

Oct. 3, 1965

President Johnson signs the landmark Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, better known as the Hart-Celler Act, into law, an immigration reform bill that ends a quota system established in 1924 based on country of origin (70 percent of immigrants were to go to Northern Europeans). The act gives priority to highly skilled immigrants and those with family already living in America. Post Hart-Celler, nearly 500,000 people immigrate annually, with 80 percent coming from countries other than Europe.

The Latina Trailblazer: Inspiring Stories From Latinas Who Overcame Adversity and Forged a New Path 

A boat crowded with Cuban refugees arrives in Key West, Florida, during the 1980 Mariel Boatlift. Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Mariel Boatlift

April 20, 1980

Fidel Castro announces that Cuban citizens may immigrate to Florida from the port of Mariel with their own arranged boat transport. In the months that follow, 125,000 Cubans flee the country, in what came to be called the Mariel Boatlift. Many of the immigrants were law-abiding citizens and families, but others, called “marielitos” were prisoners, criminals and the mentally ill sent by Castro, causing President Jimmy Carter political woes.

Increasing Immigrant Populations

Jan. 22, 2003

The U.S. Census Bureau releases statistics showing Hispanics are the country’s largest minority group, with a population of 37 million, while the Black population stands at 36.2 million.

March 24, 2011

A report from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that more than half the increase of the total U.S. population between 2000 and 2010 was due to the 43 percent growth of the Hispanic population, hitting 50.5 million in 2010, or comprising 16 percent of the nation’s population. Non-Hispanic growth was about 5 percent during that time period.

Hispanic Stars Rising: The New Face of Power 

DAPA, DACA Rulings

June 23, 2016

In a one-sentence ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court announces it is equally divided in a case involving a lower court’s decision to block President Barack Obama’s 2014 executive immigration order, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), granting deportation relief to 4 million-plus undocumented people living in the U.S. providing they pay taxes, pass background checks and reside in the country for more than five years.

June 18, 2020

In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court blocks an attempt by the Trump administration to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program protecting immigrants who came to the country as children from being deported. Established in 2012 under President Obama, DACA protects 700,000 “DREAMers.”

This selection was compiled by Frank Gomez at Latin Insights and featured on History.com

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  • Victoria Arena

    Victoria Arena is a writer and student, passionate about writing, literature, and women's studies. She is bilingual, fluent in both English and Spanish. She holds an Associates in Fine Arts for Creative Writing, and a Bachelor's in English Literature from Montclair State University.

By Victoria Arena

Victoria Arena is a writer and student, passionate about writing, literature, and women's studies. She is bilingual, fluent in both English and Spanish. She holds an Associates in Fine Arts for Creative Writing, and a Bachelor's in English Literature from Montclair State University.

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