American Imperialism in Latin America: Territory Expansion, Trade, and Immigration

byStephen Straus


This unit focuses on American imperialism related to territorial expansion, trade, and immigration in the Americas from 1846 to the present. The unit primarily examines relations between Mexico and the United States. It explores the role of U.S. imperialism on people and countries in the Americas as it relates to immigration and a Latin American population in the United States.

U.S. territorial expansion from the acquisition of Florida in 1819 to the colonization of Puerto Rico in 1898 transformed the economy of the United States. Land gains benefited the United States giving it access to natural resources, trade routes, and territory for Americans to settle. Territorial annexation incorporated Mexicans and other Latin Americans into the United States’ population. The expansion of the U.S. border through military aggression and coercion captures the Latino sentiment of “the border crossed us.”1 American imperialism through military intervention in the 20th century benefited the U.S. but weakened Latin American countries.

Beyond the use of military force, this unit highlights how American economic imperialism in the 20th century fueled Latin American immigration to the United States. The United States implemented free trade agreements in the Americas. These agreements benefited elites in both countries but worsened social conditions for many people in the Americas. The resulting lack of opportunity spurred many Latinos to immigrate to the United States. Policymakers in the United States directly contributed to immigration but have not developed safeguards that guarantee migrants basic protections. 

The anchor text for my students to study U.S. relations in Latin America will be Voces Sin Fronteras: Our Stories, Our Truth. The book is a collection of biographical comics written from the unique perspectives of sixteen Latin American youth immigrants. Their stories narrate contemporary immigration experiences to the United States from El Salvador, Guatemala, Cuba, Mexico, Ecuador, and Honduras.

Voces Sin Fronteras helps humanize American immigration policy. For example, Tato, a high school junior from Honduras, recounts his journey to the United States. He left Honduras to help his mother and to escape violence in his community. Tato documents difficulties in his trip including his experience riding on "The Beast," a dangerous freight train network used by immigrants to travel through Central America to the United States border.2 Children like Tato often make this trip alone. Migrants sleep on top of the freight trains as they pass through Mexico towards the United States.3

The stories in Voces Sin Fronteras capture struggles and sacrifices made towards a better future. The afterword states that young immigrants leave their countries "to escape violence, poverty, and corruption."4 The various stories in the book provide personal examples of societal insecurity that lead to immigration but these reasons do not explain the root causes of poverty or violence in Latin America. This curriculum unit provides historical background on the United States’ role in worsening social conditions in Latin American countries that contribute to immigration.

School Demography

I teach 7th grade English Language Arts at River City Middle School. River City Middle School is a neighborhood school in Richmond, Virginia that serves a Latino and Black student population. Nearly half of the students on my 2021-2022 roster were Latino students. They have ties to countries throughout Latin America including Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Puerto Rico.

I shared this book with several students during independent reading time at the end of the 2021-2022 school year. Student feedback was positive. As a book that focuses on Latino experiences, Voces Sin Fronteras presents an opportunity for a large number of my students to connect to the curriculum. This relevance will increase student engagement and participation.

Many Latino students said they felt the stories in Voces Sin Fronteras would be valuable for the whole class to read. I have taught in schools with Latino student populations that comprise a large proportion of the school. However, many students outside of the Latino community generalize all Latino students as Mexican. This book provides a voice to people from other Latin American countries and helps students understand the complexity and richness of Latino heritage.

Although students gave positive feedback on the idea of teaching this book for the 2022-2023 school year, a handful expressed that the content matter could be emotionally challenging for some students. Many students will have personal experiences with immigrating to the United States and the stories in the book could trigger students. As the subject matter of the books is difficult, it will be important to accommodate and support students' experiences within a classroom space.

Content Matter Discussion

Defining U.S. Imperialism

Different forms of the American empire in Latin America can be traced back to the 19th century. Relics of the American empire are present in both the United States and Latin America in 2022. Territories like Puerto Rico or the Guantanamo Bay military base in Cuba are clear examples of American conquest beyond the United States’ continental borders. Imperialism includes actions such as the United States’ support of a coup to overthrow the democratically-elected president of Haiti in 2004 or the U.S. embargo against the government and people of Cuba.5 American imperialism contributes to the societal conditions that lead to migration in Voces Sin Fronteras.

This unit expands on the concept of imperialism beyond military aggression to include economic imperialism. The idea of economic imperialism is present in the relation of the English to the American colonies. The English monopolized raw materials and trade from the American colonies. English mercantilism fueled colonists’ opposition to what they saw as an unfair trade policy. The United States’ founding is rooted in the rejection of an economic imperialism that it would eventually apply in Latin America.

As historian Kristin Hoganson states, imperialism “refers to political relationships characterized by vast disparities in power, violence or the threat of violence.”6 This unit examines imperialism through actions and policies of the federal government of the United States in the international arena. This framework for U.S. imperialism excludes non-state actors like the International Monetary Fund, multinational corporations, and individuals including American filibusters in Latin America. Situating U.S. imperialism on the federal level illustrates how the U.S. has influenced the development of Latin American countries and Latin American immigration to the United States.

U.S. Imperialism in Latin America

The idea of American empire exists in colonial and early republic documents. The land claims of the colonial charters, including Virginia’s, extended from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This claim challenged other European powers and disregarded indigenous people. President Thomas Jefferson envisioned the United States as an “empire of liberty” and developed a path for it to expand through the Louisiana Purchase. The United States used military power and territorial expansion to benefit its development at the expense of Latin American countries. Territories filled with people, natural resources, and preexisting economies were annexed by the United States including Puerto Rico.7 Military power opened international markets to American business including its control of the Panama Trade Zone.

The United States first used military force to expand its boundaries against Spanish and Mexican land claims in the 19th century.8 In 1845, the United States provoked the Mexican-American war with the annexation of Texas. President James Polk sent troops to a disputed boundary between Mexico and Texas. Mexican soldiers responded to the U.S. incursion, which provided grounds for an American declaration of war. The United States defeated Mexico and occupied a foreign capital for the first time in its history. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo brought an end to the war in 1848. The United States absorbed a land claim from Mexico greater than the Louisiana Territory with the annexation of Texas and other Mexican territories.9

The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo increased the size of a post-Louisiana Purchase America by 69%.10 The United States furthered its territorial holdings of land populated by Latino and indigenous people in 1854 with the Gadsden Purchase. The U.S. bought southern New Mexico and Arizona from Mexico for $10 million dollars.11 The annexation of territory from the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Gadsden Purchase deprived Mexico of access to land, mineral resources, and a Pacific trade route. These advantages benefited the development of the United States. Many Mexicans would seek opportunity in the land taken by the U.S.12

The United States incorporated more than 115,000 Mexicans along with indigenous people into its population at the end of the Mexican-American war in 1848.13 Americanization was not a choice for many Mexicans as the border shifted without their consent. The majority of land owned by Mexicans in the newly annexed territory of the United States was taken by white American settlers and corporations.14

Following the Spanish American War in 1898, the United States pioneered free trade policies in its newly acquired territory of Puerto Rico. The U.S. enforced several trade policies without the consent of the Puerto Rican people, including privatizing land and industry in addition to imposing foreign trade restrictions akin to the British mercantile system placed on the American colonies prior to the American Revolution. These policies benefited U.S. business interests. They also created a wage reduction for many workers. Family farms could not compete with American industry while the cost of living increased in Puerto Rico.15

In 1903, Theodore Roosevelt issued the Roosevelt Corollary. Roosevelt reasoned that the U.S. military could intervene in the Western Hemisphere and beyond to secure the financial interests of American investments and trade. The United States followed through with this policy to act as a police power by sending troops to Latin American countries.16 Roosevelt and his successors sent troops to Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Panama from 1903-1934. In addition to sending troops, the federal government pressured foreign governments by deploying battleships in foreign harbors.

Roosevelt pursued territorial expansion and the trade interests of the United States through the Panama Canal Zone. At the turn of the 20th century, Panama was a part of Colombia. When American negotiations with Colombia to build a canal stalled, Roosevelt’s administration supported Panamanians in seceding from Columbia. Although the U.S. did not acquire an outright territorial claim from Panama, they negotiated a perpetual lease to build and control a canal.17 It is estimated that 15,000 workers, mostly non-Americans, died constructing the Panama Canal.18

The Roosevelt Corollary represented a shift from imperialism through territorial annexation towards relying on military coercion to open foreign markets to the United States. Using military force to gain beneficial trade agreements had an impact in undermining the stability of economies and governments in Latin America. The United States toppled several regimes that opposed its access to Latin American markets. A Marine Corps general remarked that his involvement with the U.S. military in Latin America in the early 20th century was as a “high-class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers…I was a gangster for capitalism.”19 

Throughout the 20th century, United States foreign policy moved away from the use of high tariffs and open borders for immigrants towards free trade with restrictive immigration policies. This change in policy coincided with immigration patterns. In the 20th century, Mexicans began to immigrate in larger numbers to the United States. Between the 1900s and the 1930s, over 1.5 million Mexican immigrants came to the United States. Americans began to see immigration as more of a threat to workers than high tariffs as the rate of immigrants from the Americas increased.

Demands for restrictions along lines of race and class grew among the American public. Organizations like the Immigration Restriction League advocated for immigration restrictions and literacy tests to exclude Asians and Mexicans from democratic processes.20 The idea of exclusion based on national origins was eventually enacted into federal policy. In the 1920s, the United States instituted quotas to exclude the amount of immigrants from certain countries along with literacy tests. However, the United States did not place quotas on countries in the Americas because of American business opposition along the Mexico-United States border.21 Businesses along the border, and the economy of the United States more broadly, depended on the export of labor from countries such as Mexico. Migrant labor had been a large component of the agricultural workforce in the United States. Relying on a workforce without guaranteed citizenship rights allowed American employers to exploit undocumented workers while weakening the ability for wage increases for other farm laborers.

With the conscription of millions of U.S. workers to fight in WWII from 1941-1945, the United States increased its reliance on Mexican labor. The United States and Mexico entered into the Bracero Agreement. From 1942-1964, 4.6 million migrant workers worked in seasonal industries. The Bracero Agreement forced Mexican laborers to return to Mexico after their American employers terminated them. These workers did not receive citizenship access or the right to collectively bargain.22 The lack of guarantees for migrant workers in the Bracero Program are similar to the lack of rights immigrants face today.

After WWII, the American military continued to act as gangsters for capitalism in Latin America. In the 1950s, the president of Guatemala, Jacobo Árbenz, aimed to nationalize agriculture holdings of United Food Company, an American corporation. Árbenz wanted to give United Food Company’s farmland to landless Guatemalans. To combat Árbenz’s threat to U.S. business interests, CIA operatives trained and financed Guatemalan military forces to overthrow the Guatemalan government. President Eisenhower authorized U.S. support for a coup of the democratically-elected government of Jacobo Árbenz.23

In Puerto Rico, wages had increased along with literacy rates by the 1950s but many Puerto Ricans were still economically disadvantaged. Tax incentives and weak labor laws, including minimum wage exemptions, encouraged American manufacturers to move to the island. At the same time, thousands migrated to the mainland United States to seek better opportunities.24 Between the 1950s and 1970s, over 600,000 Puerto Ricans migrated to the mainland United States. This represented a significant flight of human capital. During the same yearly span, the island’s population grew from 2.2 million to 2.6 million.25 American economic policy had brought improvements in social conditions for some but policies favoring American business forced many to immigrate to the United States for better opportunity. 

The Hart-Cellar Immigration Reform Act of 1965, while generally liberalizing immigration, imposed the first quotas on immigrants from the Western hemisphere. Under President Lyndon Johnson, the United States removed quotas based on national origin. Hart-Cellar placed a restriction on immigrants from the Americas to 120,000 with exceptions for certain categories such as unmarried minors.26 The new law made it harder for immigrants from the Americas to obtain visas for themselves and their families. Quotas created conditions for Latin American immigrants that would increase the amount of undocumented workers.

American economic policy began to shift towards neoliberalism in the 1970s following Nixon’s abandonment of the gold standard in favor of market-regulated exchange rates. The United States sought to stabilize the world economy as the main global power through globalization, the integration of markets across borders.27 Neoliberalism is based on the idea that capitalism with open markets provides the best economic system. Neoliberalism promotes the free movement of commodities and capital, but not labor. The free movement of laborers across borders would hurt the interests of businesses and corporations as it would equalize wages among workers internationally. Leveling wages transnationally would result in businesses losing a means of profit.28 Neoliberalism does not seek to redress issues of underdevelopment through investing in the citizenry or through developing people’s capacity towards scientific and technological innovation as these actions would equate to state intervention and government regulation.29

By the mid-1970s, United States government officials warned of an immigration influx from Latin America resulting from economic reconfiguration around free trade. To combat undocumented immigration, President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) in 1986. The law provided a legal pathway to residency for undocumented immigrants that entered the United States before 1982. It criminalized the employment of undocumented laborers that entered the country after 1982.30 This law provided amnesty for individuals already residing in the United States but created a system that punished future undocumented immigrants. American policymakers understood the ramifications that trade decisions had on immigration; however, laws like the IRCA made it harder for future immigrants to access citizenship guarantees and economic opportunity.

The United States continued to protect its economic interests in the Americas by arming and training pro-American militaries throughout Latin America. U.S.-supported militaries continued to suppress agrarian movements that claimed land from American companies. President Ronald Reagan’s administration committed billions of dollars towards El Salvador’s military force. The El Salvadoran military would be implicated in human rights violations including the massacre of almost 1,000 villagers in the early 1980s.31

The United States secured several free trade agreements in Latin America. Free trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Mexico, Canada, and the United States are examples of neoliberalism policy. Enacted in 1994, NAFTA allowed for the free flow of resources and wealth. NAFTA did not allow people to move in search of better opportunities. NAFTA had both an economic and migratory impact as the agreement was based on disparity between the United States and Mexico. For example, U.S. corn held a trade advantage to Mexican corn. The U.S. government had subsidized American corn since the Great Depression.32 The United States flooded Mexico with low-priced corn through NAFTA in 1994. Similar to the agrarian crisis in Puerto Rico, Mexican agriculture collapsed. As Mexican agriculture tanked against products including American-subsidized corn, immigration from Mexico to the U.S. increased as Mexicans searched for economic opportunity.33 NAFTA dismantled Mexico’s state-led capitalism. Its debt and foreign financial obligations increased significantly. While the richest tenth percentile increased their wealth dramatically in Mexico, income per capita remained relatively unchanged when adjusted for inflation. Additionally, the success of NAFTA helped the United States spearhead other free trade agreements in Latin America.34

Anti-immigration sentiments in the U.S. increased in part from the fallout of NAFTA. Resentment towards cheap foreign labor built among Americans towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. factories moved to Mexico to take advantage of lower labor costs while Mexican immigrants moved to the United States to fill jobs in construction, meatpacking, and agriculture. Frustrations towards the reordering of capital including the relocation of automotive industries fueled support for isolationism.35

The United States actively and intentionally increased its policing of immigrants and the militarization of the border. The Clinton administration furthered the militarization of the border by expanding border walls in 1994 through Operation Gatekeeper.36 The Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act of 1996 increased the total amount of visas issued to immigrants but also doubled the size of the U.S. Border Patrol while directing funds to the construction of a border fence along the southern border.37 Other laws passed during the Clinton administration strengthened the ability of the United States to detain and deport immigrants.38

Central American countries ratified the U.S.-Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), their own version of NAFTA, in 2004.39 Since the 1980s, Latin American countries reduced tariffs and barriers in favor of market integration supported by the United States. Like NAFTA, these agreements brought investments but did not drastically redress poverty. These agreements often encouraged Latin American countries to suppress wages, cut social services, and layoff public-sector workers. In El Salvador, the lack of economic opportunity and a war that the United States played a role in contributed to 25% of the country’s population immigrating to the United States.40 CAFTA created a trade surplus for the United States by increasing its exports to CAFTA nations.41 CAFTA has benefited trade but it has not fixed issues around poverty that spur immigration.

Neoliberal free trade policies benefited the financial elite in both Latin America and the United States. Neoliberalism exacerbated social inequality in Latin America as seen through a growing income gap that has fueled immigration. The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean reported that most Latin Americans live in countries where social inequality has worsened. In 2001, the top 10% wealthiest households brought in 19 times more than the bottom 40%.42 In Puerto Rico wages still lag behind their American counterparts. The average per capita income in Puerto Rico in 2019 was $13,000 versus $34,000 in the United States. Over 40% of Puerto Ricans live in poverty compared to less than 15% of the population in the United States. With all of its promises for economic development, American free trade has not alleviated economic disparity.43 Growing inequality in Latin America parallels trends in inequality in the U.S. The top one percent of Americans own almost $45 trillion while the bottom half of the American population controls about $4 trillion.44 Economic trade policies between countries like Mexico and the United States do not include provisions to protect working people. People all over the world including immigrants from Central America will seek opportunities elsewhere as economic conditions deteriorate and governments cut social services.

As the war on terror refocused foreign policy post-9/11, immigration enforcement fell under a newly formed Department of Homeland Security in the Bush administration in 2003. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agents increased their enforcement of immigration policies as xenophobia and racism spiked in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. ICE agents raided workplaces and communities resulting in mass deportations of immigrants from Latin America.45 These efforts by the United States to restrict immigration did not prove to be effective. Migration rates increased with the exception of a decline during the Great Recession. Police-style raids of workplaces popularized by George Bush expanded under the governments of President Obama and Trump.46 Obama responded to political pressure from undocumented activists and established a program to defer deportation actions for childhood immigrants (DACA) and also proposed de-emphasizing the using of detention. Notwithstanding, he also deported more than three million people, which surpassed any other presidential administration. Democratic and Republican administrations have exacerbated challenges for immigrants residing in the United States. 

President Trump moved to strip protections for DACA recipients and used ICE to detain undocumented youths in the United States. The use of detention centers skyrocketed under Trump. More than 274,000 migrants were detained in detention camps in the first half of 2019. Many of these camps were temporary, open-air facilities where women and children slept in unsafe and inhumane conditions including sleeping on gravel.47 Trump’s immigration policy expanded beyond the border to force asylum-seekers to reside in Mexico while awaiting a court date in the United States.48

The United States withdrew from NAFTA and sought a new trade pact with Mexico and Canada in 2018. In response to a surge in class struggle populism and growing economic disparity, Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador promised to do more to raise wages, strengthen unions, and invest in the public sector. The 2019 United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement strengthened unions’ ability to collectively bargain but largely preserved NAFTA’s integration of markets across borders.49 The current economics system essentially eliminates borders for business while keeping them for people. These laws and policies create violent and hostile conditions along the border and within the United States. Latin American workers in the United States have pushed back against exploitative conditions. For example, farm workers in 2020 organized a strike against working conditions during COVID-19. The farm owners threatened deportation, but eventually agreed to negotiate with the workers and allow them to begin a formal union drive.50

Voces Sin Fronteras documents the contemporary challenges immigrants face including negative perceptions regarding the amount of immigrants arriving to the United States today. Immigrants including those from Latin America have always been a part of the United States population. The percentage of immigrants from the Americas grew from 10% in the 19th century to roughly half of the total immigrant population by the end of the 20th century.51

Compared with the total population, immigrants comprised a greater portion of the U.S. population during the mid-19th and early 20th century.52 As over 2020, there are over 62 million Latinos in the United States. Mexican Americans represent about 60% of Latinos. Puerto Ricans and Cubans account for 10% and 4%, respectively. Six countries in the Caribbean, Central, and South America constitute 25% of the Latino population in the United States. Central American populations in the United States were relatively small up until the last two decades of the 20th century. From 1980 to 2010, the Central American population in the United States grew from 350,000 to over three million. An increase in immigrants from Central America resulted in part from Central American wars along with U.S. military and economic interventions. The total number of immigrants has increased in the past thirty years but so has the total population of the United States.53

The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights reflects United States foreign policy in that it states individuals have the freedom to move, which includes leaving their country of residence. It does not require a country to accept immigrants, which creates a dilemma for the youth immigrants in Voces Sin Fronteras. They may leave their countries because of poor economic conditions or in response to insecurity fueled in part by American imperialism, but the United States does not have to accept them. It can force immigrants to return to a country they wish to leave and thus deny them the freedom of movement, a universal human right.54

Classroom Strategies

Evaluating Texts: “Looking Beyond the Logo Map”

This unit blends skills related to history and literacy. Education historian Sam Wineburg argues that teaching historical thinking involves helping students evaluate the bias, perspective, and reliability of source documents.55 To understand the United States’ relation to Latin America, students will explore a variety of maps that reflect different perspectives of the United States. Historian Daniel Immerwahr explains if the boundaries of the United States were a logo design, the U.S. boundary would include the continental U.S. and possibly Hawaii and Alaska. This map excludes territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.56 Comparing maps that reflect competing claims between European powers, the exclusion of tribal nations, and the expanding boundaries of the United States across different periods will prepare students to think about the different perspectives of the United States along with the United States’ relation to Latin America. The map activity will help students contemplate how the United States affects population shifts. This idea will be explored further while reading Voces Sin Fronteras and evaluating causes for immigration. Direct instruction will be used to provide students with some background knowledge, but encouraging students to make sense of documents with different perspectives will help students develop critical thinking skills around the role of the U.S. as a global power in relation to Latin America.

Assessing Contemporary Immigration Debates

Voces Sin Fronteras provides a voice to people directly impacted by the United States’ immigration policy. Students can use these stories to help them evaluate immigration policy and public discourse around immigration. Beyond examining immigration policy through these narratives, students will evaluate immigration to the United States through policy, data, and public sentiment. Looking at population shifts and immigration laws before and after the initiation of restrictive quotas will help students assess the reliability of claims of the United States being “flooded” by immigrants.

Answers Beyond Google

The unit also seeks to encourage students to question what factors contributed to the growth of a Latino population in the United States. If students searched what causes people from El Salvador or another country in Latin America to immigrate to the United States, the results would list reasons such as poverty and violence. Voces Sin Fronteras illustrates these reasons through personal narratives. Although a Google search or personal narrative provides an answer to the question, it lacks deeper historical roots. In addition to reading the novel and using their own background knowledge, students will synthesize information from other texts to develop their understanding of historical complexity.

Classroom Activities

Guiding Questions

This curriculum unit will be built around certain questions relating to immigration and the role of the United States as a global empire. As students read the anchor text and review other sources, student responses to the guiding questions on the causes of immigration will expand. Student responses to these questions will support them in classroom discussion around the topic:

  1. Why do people immigrate?
  2. What is the story of the United States and why Latinos immigrate to the U.S.?
  3. How can these stories and histories help us?

While reading Voces Sin Fronteras, students will be provided with supplemental resources to further their responses to the questions above. Newsela, a news site that allows readers to adapt reading levels, and clips from the documentary, Harvest of Empire, can provide students with general overviews on various topics related to this curriculum unit from the U.S.-Mexican war to neoliberal trade policies like NAFTA.

For example, several narratives in Voces Sin Fronteras feature youth immigrants from El Salvador. As students review supplemental sources, their responses to the guiding questions will expand from what they learned in Voces Sin Fronteras. The article, “Countries Of The World: El Salvador,” from Newsela will provide students with a general overview of the history and culture of El Salvador. Students may respond to the guiding questions above stating that people immigrate from El Salvador because of issues related to poverty. Students may note a role of the U.S. is that El Salvadorans send money from the United States back to El Salvador. “The Roots of Immigration from El Salvador and Current Policy Debates” by Justin Sybenga is a lesson outline with resources that can be used to give students additional perspectives. One of the informative texts documents the United States’ intervention in El Salvador. Another source is a children’s drawing of U.S. planes bombing a village as villagers flee their homes. Clips from Harvest of Empire provide testimony and footage regarding the impact of U.S. intervention on immigration.57  These supplemental sources will help students refine their responses to the guiding questions.

Developing an Informative Narrative

As one of the concluding projects for this unit, students will create a comic similar to the ones found in Voces Sin Fronteras: Our Stories, Our Truth. The informative narrative they develop would be based on details from the narratives they read in Voces Sin Fronteras and the supplemental texts. Students may draw from their own experience, interview someone, or research a particular community for the basis of their story. The narrative would address the guiding questions and include details that connect immigratiton from Latin America to United States’ policies.

Appendix on Implementing District Standards

Virginia uses the Virginia Standards of Learning.

VA SOL ELA 7.6: The student will read and demonstrate comprehension of a variety of nonfiction texts. Students will demonstrate understanding of Voces Sin Fronteras and accompanying texts by making connections between the texts and themselves. Responses to high-order thinking questions including comparing sources including differing maps will evidence students comprehension of perspective.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.7.10: By the end of the year, read and comprehend literary nonfiction in the grades 6-8 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

VA SOL ELA 7.7: The student will write in a variety of forms with an emphasis on exposition, narration, and persuasion. Students writing around the guiding questions and the topic will include exposition and narration.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.4a: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

VA SOL USII.9a: The student will apply social science skills to understand the key domestic and international issues during the second half of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries by evaluating and explaining American foreign policy, immigration, the global environment, and other emerging issues. Students will be able to explain foreign policy as it relates to immigration in Latin America and through the evaluation of data around immigration to the United States.

Annotated Bibliography

America in the World: A History in Documents from the War with Spain to the War on Terror. Edited by Jeffrey A. Engel, Mark Atwood Lawrence, and Andrew Preston. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. A collection of primary resources that provide competing views regarding American foreign policy from 1898 through the 2000s.

Aher Chacón, Justin. The Border Crossed Us: The Case for Opening the US-Mexico Border. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2021. This book examines how trade and immigration policy from the 20th century to the present results in the exploitation of labor between the United States and Mexico.

Bell Lara, José and Delia Luisa López. “The Harvest of Neoliberalism in Latin America.” Imperialism, Neoliberalism and Social Struggles in Latin America. Edited by Richard A. Dello Buono and José Bell Lara. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2009, pp. 17-35. This article provides an overview of the rise of social inequity from the 1970s to the 2000s as it relates to neoliberal trade policies.

Cammisa, Rebecca. Which Way Home. Mr. Mudd Production/HBO Films, 2009. Accessed June 12, 2022. This documentary follows the journey of Central American children attempting to cross the border to the United States.

Clark, Don. “Adjustment Problems in Developing Countries and the U.S.-Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement.” The International Trade Journal, 23, no. 1 (2009); 31-53. This article examines CAFTA’s impact on trade between partner nations.

Chomsky, Aviva. Central America's Forgotten History: Revolution, Violence, and the Roots of Migration. Boston: Beacon Press, 2021. Chomsky examines the history of Latin American countries as it relates to the impact of U.S. intervention.

“Countries Of The World: El Salvador.” National Geographic Kids, adapted by Newsela staff. Accessed August 17, 2022. This article is an example of a resource that could be used in a classroom setting.

“Distribution of Household Wealth in the U.S. since 1989.” Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Accessed July 28, 2022. www.;series:Net%20worth;demographic:networth;population:1,3,5,7;units:shares;range:1989.3,2022.1. This resource provides multiple graphs to understand wealth distribution.

“Facts on U.S. immigrants, 2018.” Pew Research Center. Accessed July 28, 2022. Pew Research Center provides graphs and data to document immigration trends in the United States.

Gabaccia, Donna. Foreign Relations: American Immigration in Global Perspective. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012. Gabaccia covers over two centuries of American immigration and trade policy. The book examines how immigration is more than a domestic issue and shows the transnational relation that immigrants have to their home countries and the United States.

Garcia, Uríel. “Supreme Court rules Biden administration can end ‘remain in Mexico’ policy, sending case back to a Texas court.” Austin: The Texas Tribune, 6/22/2022. Accessed July 17, 2020. News coverage documenting immigration policies of the Trump and Biden administrations as it relates to the border along Mexico and the United States.

Gibson, Campbell and Kay Jung. “Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population of the United States: 1850 to 2000.” U.S. Census Bureau. Accessed July 28, 2022. This report provides an overview of the foreign-born population in the United States.

Gómez, Laura. Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race. New York: New York University Press: 2007. Gómez examines the construction of the Mexican American race covering history leading up to the annexation of northern Mexico from the United States through the 20th century with emphasis paid to New Mexico.

González, Juan. Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America. New York: Penguin Books, 2001. This book provides history of Latin American countries in relation to U.S. foreign policy along with domestic experiences of Latinos in the United States.

González, Juan. Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America. Directed by Peter Getzels and Eduardo López. Onyx Films, 2012. This documentary is an adaptation of the book of the same name.

Greenberg, Amy. Manifest Destiny and American Territorial Expansion: A Brief History With Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012. This article provides an overview of American territorial expansion. It traces the idea of Manifest Destiny to the arrival of colonial settlers.

Hoganson, Kristin. American Empire at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: A Brief History with Documents. Boston : Bedford/St. Martin's, Macmillan Learning: 2017. Hoganson details American imperialism as it relates to other countries in Asia and Latin America.

Immerwahr, Daniel. How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019. Immerwahr presents an argument of the United States as an empire through examining its territorial acquisitions including military bases throughout the world. He gives special emphasis to Puerto Rico and the Philippines. 

Jacobson, Matthew Frye. Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad, 1876-1917. New York: Hill and Wang, 2000. Jacobson examines how American empire as it relates to territorial acquisition, globalization, and American identity as it relates to the “Americanization” of colonized people.

Johnson, Julia, “Towards a New Generation in Central America Trade: Proposals for Modernizing CAFTA-DR.” Pace International Law Review, 32 (no. 1), 2019; 103-136. This article provides an overview of CAFTA. It outlines its benefits to trade and acknowledges poor living conditions though it does not go into detail on societal issues.

Medina, Meg. Voces Sin Fronters: Our Stories, Our Truth. Washington, DC: Shout Mouse Press, 2018. This young adult novel provides 16 stories written by youth immigrants from Latin America.

Salinas Figueredo, Darío. “Democratic Governability in Latin America: Limits and Possibilities in the Context of Neoliberal Domination.” Imperialism, Neoliberalism and Social Struggles in Latin America. Edited by Richard A. Dello Buono and José Bell Lara. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2009, pp. 85-102. This article examines the role of the United States in Latin America as it relates to neoliberal policy.

Sargent, Daniel. “Neoliberalism as a Form of US Power.” The Cambridge History of America and the World, edited by David C. Engerman, Max Paul Friedman, and Melani McAlister. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022. This article provides an overview of neoliberalism and free trade policy in the 20th century as it relates to the effort of the United States as the leading superpower to integrate markets while loosening the ability of governments to regulate trade.

Sybenga, Justin. “The Roots of Immigration from El Salvador and Current Policy Debates.” Teaching for Change. Accessed August 17, 2022. This site has a variety of lesson plans for teaching about topics related to Central America.

US Census Bureau. "2020 Census Illuminates Racial and Ethnic Composition of the Country." 2020. This report includes current immigration figures from the Census Bureau.

Wineburg, Sam. Why Learn History (When It's Already on Your Phone). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2018. Wineburg outlines an approach to teaching history that favors a process of historical thinking over rote memorization.


1 Justin Aher Chacón, The Border Crossed Us: The Case for Opening the US-Mexico Border, 15.

2 Meg Medina, Voces Sin Fronters: Our Stories, Our Truth, 226-232.

3 Rebecca Cammisa, Which Way Home.

4 Medina, 294.

5 Darío Salinas Figueredo, “Democratic Governability in Latin America: Limits and Possibilities in the Context of Neoliberal Domination,” 97, 101.

6 Kristin Hoganson, American Empire at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: A Brief History with Documents, 2.

7 Daniel Immerwahr,  How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States, 7.

8 Amy Greenberg, Manifest Destiny and American Territorial Expansion: A Brief History With Documents, 10-15.

9 Laura Gómez, Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race, 1-2, 18-20.

10 Immerwahr, 77.

11 Greenberg, 29.

12 Donna Gabaccia, Foreign Relations: American Immigration in Global Perspective, 5-6, 93, 183-184; Gómez, 4.

13 Gómez, 1-2, 18-20.

14 Gómez, 117.

15 Chacón, 30-31.

16 Theodore Roosevelt, “Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, 1904.”

17 Gabaccia, 89; Immerwahr, 114.

18 Immerwahr, 281-282.

19 Chacón, 24-25.

20 Gabaccia, 134-135, 138.

21 Gabaccia, 141-143.

22 Chacón, 69-71.

23 González, 137-138.

24 Chacón, 31-32; Immerwahr, 257-258.

25 Chacón, 33.

26 Gabaccia,173.

27 Daniel Sargent, “Neoliberalism as a Form of US Power,” 2.

28 José Bell Lara and Delia Luisa López, “The Harvest of Neoliberalism in Latin America,” 18.

29 Darío, 101.

30 Chacón, 178-179, 185.

31 Aviva Chomsky, Central America's Forgotten History: Revolution, Violence, and the Roots of Migration, 69-70.

32 Chacón, 2-3, 60.

33 Gabaccia, 191.

34 Chacón, 113-116.

35 Gabaccia, 206, 224.

36 Chacón, 193.

37 Gabaccia, 207-208.

38 Chacón, 193.

39 Don Clark, “Adjustment Problems in Developing Countries and the U.S.-Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement,” 1-4.

40 Chomsky, 197-198.

41 Julia Johnson, “Towards a New Generation in Central America Trade: Proposals for Modernizing CAFTA-DR,” 105, 122.

42 Bell and López, 22-23.

43 Chacón, 33.

44 Chacón, 7; “Distribution of Household Wealth in the U.S. since 1989.”

45 Gabaccia, 208.

46 Chacón, 195.

47 Chacón, 196, 203, 216-221.

48 Uríel Garcia, “Supreme Court rules Biden administration can end ‘remain in Mexico’ policy, sending case back to a Texas court.”

49 Chacón, 142-143.

50 Chacón, 172-174.

51 Gabaccia, 5-6, 93.

52 “Facts on U.S. immigrants, 2018.”; Campbell Gibson and Kay Jung, “Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population of the United States: 1850 to 2000.”

53 Chacón, 27, 130; Chomsky, 219; Gómez, 151.; US Census Bureau. "2020 Census Illuminates Racial and Ethnic Composition of the Country."; Juan González, Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America, 129.

54 Gabaccia, 216.

55 Sam Wineburg, Why Learn History (When It's Already on Your Phone), 121.

56 Imerwahr, 8-9.

57 “Countries Of The World: El Salvador.”; Sybenga, Justin, “The Roots of Immigration from El Salvador and Current Policy Debates.”

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