In Harvest of Empire, Juan González asserts that migration from Latin America to the United States is certain to continue. While the two main reasons he gives are primarily economic, one is concerned with the migrants’ countries of origin and the other with the United States. Furthermore, González points out that economic problems go hand in hand with current and past political problems.
Latin America, as the author shows throughout the book, is a huge, diverse region. Many of the countries have historically been unstable both politically and economically. An ongoing legacy of those chronic ups-and-downs is that the people lack confidence in a long-term positive outlook for their country. Especially at the upper-most and lowest levels of the social hierarchy, people are encouraged to seek financial opportunity elsewhere. The array of problems that people face in their home countries are known as the “push” factors that prompt them to leave. The exodus of highly educated people who expect to find greater professional success, including higher pay, is an ongoing brain drain that depletes the poor of talent in the country of origin. Undereducated and unskilled workers also are encouraged to leave, expecting to earn high wages for the same type of work. They are often willing to endure poor living and working conditions if it means earning enough to send money back to their families, in remittances.
On the U.S. side, the constant demand for labor, especially low-wage workers, is a force that drives migration. The agricultural industry is especially labor intensive, although the demand is often seasonal. Many migrant workers return to their home countries in the off-season, but increasing numbers “settle out” of the migration stream and remain permanently in the area where they work. The precarious situation of foreign workers, even those with up-to-date visas, allows U.S. employers to pay them lower wages, which makes them more desirable to employers.