Sergey Brin

Brin teamed up with Stanford University classmate Larry Page to found the Internet company Google, based on its search engine that uses backlinks for ranking.

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Chinese family associations

Chinese family associations, or fangs, provided social and financial support to early Chinese immigrants living in hostile environments.

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Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance

The alliance successfully defeated anti-Chinese legislation in New York City during the 1930’s.

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Chinese laundries

Chinese laundries developed as a major occupation for the first wave of Chinese immigrants who came to the United States during the mid-nineteenth century. Laundries opened throughout the country and became uniquely identified with this ethnic group.

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Liz Claiborne

One of the most successful female entrepreneurs in American business history, Belgian-born Claiborne founded Liz Claiborne, Inc., in 1976.


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Coal industry

The American coal industry relied heavily on immigrant labor during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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Drug trafficking

Definition: Importation and sale of narcotic and other drugs legally defined as controlled substances

Significance: Drug trafficking and immigration are strongly correlated because most of the illegal drugs that enter the United States originate outside the country. Thousands of undocumented immigrants from various countries work as couriers, smuggling narcotic and other banned drugs into the United States.

Roadblock set up by U.S. border officials checking for drugs on Interstate-5 near San Diego, California, in early 2009

Roadblock set up by U.S. border officials checking for drugs on Interstate-5 near San Diego, California, in early 2009. (AP/Wide World Photos)

The drug trade in illegal drugs began reaching epidemic proportions during the 1990’s. Scholars have estimated that profits from international drug trafficking were nearing $10 trillion dollars annually by the twenty-first century. The United States is meanwhile the most lucrative market for international drug traffickers, with tons of illegal drugs smuggled into the country every day. Many of the couriers who are paid to bring in the drugs are themselves illegal immigrants.

Illegal drug trafficking has become a global black market consisting of the farming, processing, distribution, and sale of illegal narcotics. Most countries throughout the world prohibit trade, except under license, of many types of illegal drugs. The illicit drug trade operates much like other illegal underground markets. Drug gangs and cartels specialize in the separate processes along the supply chain, sometimes involving multiple countries. The cartels vary in size, ethnic and racial membership, organizational structure, and country of origin. Supply chains range from low-level street dealers to mid-level street gangs and couriers, up to multinational drug empires. Illegal drugs can be grown and processed almost anywhere: in the wilderness, on farms and plantations, in residential gardens, inside residential homes, and in labs secreted inside such structures as abandoned city buildings in major urban districts or rural mobile home parks. The most common element connecting these places of production is that all the locations must remain secret to avoid detection by law enforcement. Much of the twenty-first century illegal drug cultivation and processing takes place in developing nations; however, some is done in such developed nations as the United States, Canada, Germany, and France. Consumption of illegal drugs is widespread globally and has been regarded as having reached epidemic proportions within the United States.

Although consumers of illegal drugs avoid taxes by buying their drugs on black markets, the high costs of illegal narcotics comes from the money necessary to protect trade and trafficking routes from law enforcement. Those who carry the drugs fromcountry to country tend to be undocumented migrants who work as low-level employees for known drug cartels. Illegal immigrants are recruited and used on a daily basis to transport drugs over national borders, especially into the United States. Mexico is particularly well known for the growing, processing, and distribution of various illegal narcotics including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines. Because the U.S. demand is huge, Mexican drug cartels can easily recruit Mexicans and Central Americans seeking better lives in the United States to carry the contraband north when they attempt to enter the United States. When these people succeed in crossing the border, they may choose either to continue to transport drugs for the cartel or to remain in the United States illegally. Although most illegal immigrants who come to the United States are not involved in drug trafficking, thousands are.

Sources of Illegal Drugs

Many diverse groups traffic and dispense illegal drugs in the United States. Criminal gangs operating in South America smuggle thousands of pounds of cocaine and heroin into the United States via a variety of entry points, including land routes through Mexico, offshore routes along Mexico’s east and west coasts, open-sea routes through the Caribbean Islands, and air routes. Violent criminal drug gangs operating out of Mexico transport millions of pounds of various narcotics into the U.S annually. Some of these groups began smuggling and distributing drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and marijuana across the U.S.-Mexican border during the mid-1970’s. After successfully distributing drugs in western and midwestern American states, Mexican drug cartels have begun expanding their markets into southeastern, eastern, and northeastern states.

Other countries have also gained footholds in the U.S. drug market. Israeli and Russian drug cartels along with other western European drug traffickers have been using illegal immigrants to traffic a drug known on the street as "ecstasy” in the United States. This drug is usually manufactured in underground labs in both eastern and western Europe, whence it is transported to the United States, usually in commercial airliners. Criminal gangs located in Southeast and Southwest Asia smuggle thousands of pounds of heroin into the United States every year. Using New York City and Philadelphia as their primary distribution points, these gangs move heroin up and down the eastern United States with the help of illegal immigrants.

Drug Trafficking and Illegal Immigration Drug smuggling and money laundering have been practiced for hundreds of years, but globalization has raised drug trafficking to a multitrillion dollar international business. U.S. authorities have witnessed and felt the deleterious effects of both the narcotics trade and the illegal immigrants who transport the drugs into the country. The illegal drug market in the United States is one of the most lucrative in the world. Consequently, the country attracts the most merciless, sophisticated, and insistent drug traffickers. Federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies face intimidating challenges in protecting the national borders.

According to early twenty-first century U.S. Customs Service figures, 70 million people enter the United States on more than 700,000 commercial and private flights every year. Another 6.5 million arrive by sea, and millions more arrive by land. Nearly 120 million vehicles cross U.S. land borders with Canada and Mexico. More than 90,000 merchant and passenger ships dock at U.S. ports, carrying 10 million shipping containers loaded with more than 400 million tons of cargo. Another 160,000 small vessels visit many U.S. coastal towns. There are thus ample methods for transporting illegal narcotics into the United States.

According to federal government figures, roughly 12 million illegal immigrants were living in the United States in 2008. About 75 percent of all illegal immigrants who made the United States their new home between 2000 and 2008 came fromMexico. By the end of 2008, California alone had about 3 million illegal immigrants residing within its boundaries. On the frontline of illegal immigrant and drug trafficking is the United States Border Patrol. Along with legal entry points, the Border Patrol is responsible for patrolling nearly 6,000 miles of both the Mexican and Canadian land borders and more than 2,000 miles of coastal waters surrounding Puerto Rico and the Florida peninsula.

On average, more than 500,000 illegal immigrants were arrested every year during the early twenty-first century, either while they were in the United States or while they tried to cross the border. In 2007 alone, Border Patrol agents arrested more than 850,000 people attempting to enter the country illegally. Because the federal government estimates that only 10-20 percent of all illegal immigrants are apprehended, as many as 4 million undocumented immigrants may enter the country undetected every year. Federal officials have also estimated that nearly 80-90 percent of illegal drugs entering the United States come from Mexico. Most of these drugs are smuggled in by illegal immigrants.

In 2005, federal law-enforcement seizure counts for cocaine and marijuana alone were astounding. The government stated that 1.13 million pounds of cocaine and 6.9 million pounds of marijuana with a total estimated street value of more than $80 billion dollars was seized. Additionally, federal law-enforcement officials estimated that only 20 percent of the drugs coming into the country is seized.

Because of increasing drug-smuggling activities along the southwestern border, the Border Patrol has also become a frontline agency in the war on drugs. Between October, 2006, and February, 2007, Border Patrol agents seized 299,154 pounds of marijuana—an amount averaging more than a ton a day. These totals represented a 31 percent increase over the same period during the previous fiscal year, when the amount of marijuana seized shattered previous records. Using the federal lawenforcement seizure rate of 20 percent, federal agents and officers fail to seize close to 4 million pounds of marijuana a year. By the end of 2007, Border Patrol agents seized modest amounts of both cocaine (14,000 pounds) and marijuana (1.8 million pounds). The total street value of drugs confiscated by the Border Patrol in 2007 alone was placed around $1.6 billion. However, the estimated total street value of cocaine and marijuana that actually made it into the United States during that fiscal year was placed around $100 billion.

Paul M. Klenowski

Further Reading

Bailey, Bruce, and William Walker, eds. Drug Trafficking in the Americas. Miami, Fla.: University of Miami, North/South Center Press, 1994. Compilation of various research efforts of both North and South American scholars on the illicit drug trade and its effects on both continents. Each chapter provides a different perspective on the problem, including the use of illegal immigrants as drug couriers. 

Bhattacharyya, Gargi. Traffick: The Illicit Movement of People and Things. London: Pluto Press, 2002. Broad overview of global trafficking in contraband, with a particularly emphasis on drugs, counterfeit products, and people. The author candidly explains how the world’s official economy has become dependant on illegal trade, without which globalization cannot access cheap labor, reach vulnerable new markets, or finance development in poor countries. 

Decker, Scott, and Margaret Chapman. Drug Smugglers on Drug Smuggling: Lessons from the Inside. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2008. Scholarly work offering firsthand accounts of drug smugglers. Drawing on numerous interviews with convicted drug traffickers, the authors provide powerful insights into the dark underworld of drug trafficking, including the use of illegal immigrants as drug "mules.” 

Friman, H. Richard, and Peter Andreas, eds. The Illicit Global Economy and State Power. Lanham, Md.: Rowman&Littlefield, 1999. Detailed look at the global economic impact of illegal commerce throughout the world, with considerable detail on drug trafficking profits and the trade’s ties to some national governments. 

Morgan, Lee. The Reaper’s Line: Life and Death on the Mexican Border. Tucson, Ariz.: Rio Nuevo Press, 2006. Firsthand account of life on the front line of the U.S.-Mexican border. With more than two decades of experience as a U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officer, Morgan chronicles various true-life tales of both success and horrific failures along the border, providing revealing insights into bribery, corruption, and other crimes involving government agents, American politicians, and Mexican and American drug lords. 

Naim, Moises. Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats Are Hijacking the Global Economy. New York: Anchor Books, 2007. Uncensored look at the global impact of the drug trade during the previous decade. Special attention is given to the people who are recruited to smuggle drugs across international borders, especially in the United States. 

See also: Border fence; Border Patrol, U.S.; Coast Guard, U.S.; Colombian immigrants; Coolies; Criminal immigrants; Homeland Security, Department of; Illegal immigration; 9/11 and U.S. immigration policy; Patriot Act of 2001; Smuggling of immigrants.

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Family businesses

Family businesses have played an important role in the lives of immigrants to the United States. These businesses have enabled immigrants to establish themselves, first as members of their ethnic neighborhoods and secondly, as members of the American community in which they live.

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Garment industry

Garment industryFueled by immigrant labor since the massive surge of Jewish and Italian immigrants to New York City during the decades surrounding the turn of the twentieth century, the American garment industry was long a major economic portal to recently arrived immigrants.

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Great Depression

Great DepressionImmigration was a thorny issue during the Depression. Legislation was already in place barring certain ethnic groups from entering the United States, and immigration remained restricted during the era owing to economic factors.

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Andrew Grove

The third person hired by the cofounders of the Intel Corporation, the Hungarian-bornGrove rose relatively quickly to the company’s top management position.

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Meyer Guggenheim

Meyer GuggenheimOriginally an impoverished Jewish peddler from Switzerland, Guggenheim built a worldwide mining conglomerate after immigrating to the United States.


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Hamburg-Amerika Line

Hamburg-Amerika LineFrom 1881 until 1914, the Hamburg-Amerika Line was the largest shipping line in existence.

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The workers sent to Hawaii by the imingaisha began an era of organized Japanese economic emigration that reversed imperial Japan’s long-standing restrictions on population movement outside the country and marked the beginning of the Japanese community in the United States.

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Industrial Revolution

Industrial RevolutionThe demographic revolution that began in the Western world during the eighteenth century and accelerated during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries made it imperative to develop employment for the increasing numbers of people in the developing nations.

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Industrial Revolution: Changing Sources of Economic Growth

As late as the eighteenth century, the great bulk of people in Europe and North America were still supporting themselves and their families through their individual labor, mostly on farmlands.

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Industrial Revolution: Creation of Industrial America

After the mid-nineteenth century, the development of machine-powered mass-manufacturing techniques powered the American economy.

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Iron and steel industry

Immigrants to the United States were in many ways responsible for the rise and success of the nation’s large iron and steel industry.

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Iron and steel industry: Late Nineteenth Century Immigrants

Iron and steel industry: Late Nineteenth Century Immigrants The iron and steel industry continued to progress after the U.S. Civil War, and an increasing need for labor corresponded to this growth.

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Iron and steel industry: Struggle to Unionize

Many native-born American workers believed that immigrants and their families would not fight against workplace and community injustice on their own accord. . .

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Iron and steel industry: Life in the Steel Communities

Second- and third-generation immigrants and their families built more comfortable lives in steel communities such as Johnstown and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Youngstown, Ohio, from the 1940’s through the 1960’s.

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