Impact of Laws on Bolivian Immigrants

Fig. 4.1 “Bolivian Immigration Legislation” Timeline Created by Natalie Griffitts


Laws dictate where, when, and how long a person can migrate to another country. Laws also dictate the experiences and rights of those immigrants once they are in another country. As stated in the “Causes of Bolivian Immigration” section of this research project, the Second Wave of Bolivian immigrants were primarily economic migrants due to the collapse of the Bolivian economy under the Zuazo presidency, which elected to resolve a deficit by printing money.[1] An examination of post-1965 Bolivian immigration to the United States and the legislation in place from that point in time to the present shows a clear acknowledgment of the increase of Spanish-speaking economic immigrants.

Laws Affecting Entry to the United States

Research has shown that Bolivians have emigrated to several countries, primarily Spain, Argentina, and the United States.[2] Though the 2010 Census showed that there were over one hundred thousand Bolivian immigrants in the United States, there are presumably twice as many when estimating the number of undocumented Bolivians.[3] The first law to effect the Second Wave of Bolivian Immigrants was the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. Also known as the Hart-Cellar Act, had a definite impact on Bolivian migration because it encouraged both immigrants looking for work and immigrant families to come to the United States. Furthermore, this law allowed a growth of visas to two hundred and ninety thousand up from one hundred and fifty thousand and ended nationality-based quotas.[4] As President Lyndon B. Johnson said when signing the bill at Liberty Island, “This bill says simply that from this day forth those wishing to immigrate to America shall be admitted on the basis of their skills and their close relationship to those already here.”[5] This remained the truth for the decade.

In 1976, each Western country received a twenty thousand person ceiling, including Bolivia.[6] In 1978, the quotas became more stringent with the implementation of a global maximum quota of two hundred and ninety thousand.[7] The global quota was lowered yet again with another amendment to the Hart-Cellar Act in 1980, which made the new maximum two hundred and seventy thousand.[8] The overhaul of the Hart-Cellar Act occurred twenty-five years after its inception with the Immigration Act of 1990. IMMACT, as it was called, increased the skilled labor workforce by tripling skilled professional workforce.[9] A skilled professional was defined as having at least a high school diploma, two years of work experience and job training.[10] This change in the visa selection processes directly impacted the post-1965 Second Wave Bolivian immigrants because they were low-income migrants and were unlikely to have the requirements. There was also the issue that when President Bush signed IMMACT into law, he declared that it would close the door to illegal immigration and open the door to legal immigration, which furthered a stigma that only white-collar migrants could be documented.[11]

Key legislation affecting both Bolivian immigrants migrating to the United States and already living in the US was the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA). This law increased the number of agencies monitoring visa abuse and increased the penalties for any means of aiding undocumented migration.[12] Another massive impact of the IIRAIRA on this group of Bolivian immigrants was the implementation of employment eligibility verification. If a business employed undocumented immigrants, then they were subjected to sanctions. As noted repeatedly throughout A Nation of Nations, post-1965 Bolivian immigrants came for work, whatever work they could find, regardless of its legal hiring practices because their goal was to secure visas for their family members still in Bolivia and to send money home.[13]

Laws Affecting Experiences once in the United States

To the Bolivians immigrants already living in the US, IIRAIRA was the first piece of legislation the post-1965 Second Wave experience that could be defined as anti-immigrant. IIRAIRA expanded its list of crimes listed as felonies to allow more immigrants to be detained.[14] Additionally, any prior charges could be reclassified as felonies.[15] Until the 2001 case of Zadvydas v. Davis, the detainment was allowed to be indefinite, but this case lowered it to a maximum of two years.[16] Additionally, despite the 1990 case of United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez declaring anyone on US soil was given the rights stated in the Constitution, Zadvydas v. Davis decided that any detained immigrant, regardless of their status, would not be given legal representation if they could not afford one.[17]

Prior to IIRAIRA, in 1986, the Bolivian immigrant population was also affected by the Immigration Reform and Control Act. IRCA gave amnesty and temporary status to undocumented immigrants that were living continuously in the United States before January 1, 1982.[18] With at least half of the Bolivian population in the US being undocumented, this law could have helped many Bolivians obtain status in the US while other laws helped them work towards bringing their family to over. However, IIRAIRA would implement a waivers system that required pardons and wait times that could exceed over ten years and a pardon.[19] With the threat of deportation that could end up being exile from a country that has been supporting their family, as Bolivia’s economy continues to struggle, it is not wholly surprising that Alexandria’s Bolivian immigrant group remains largely invisible.

The children of Bolivian immigrants have also experienced this fluctuation of legislation. A mid-1970s case Lau v. Nichols established English Language Learners for immigrant children and the children of immigrants that had limited to no proficiency in English.[20] This is particularly important in Alexandria where their Latino population during the 2010 Census was over 16%.[21] Though Spanish is not the only language ELL programs are servicing, Spanish-speaking students are the largest group of ELL students in the U.S and Alexandria City Public Schools have a 36% Latino population.[22] This means that ELL programs are vital because they will give these children the language skills to succeed in the English-centric nation while preserving their first languages. Plyler v. Doe declared that every child, regardless of documentation status, was entitled to an education under the Fourteenth Amendment.[23] Other laws have pushed and pulled funding to low-income schools, which tend to have higher minority populations, while others that have experienced yo-yo funding have been directly for ELL programs. The subsequent connectivity to preserve Bolivian language and culture is discussed in detail in sections five and six of our research.


As our “Connections among Bolivian Immigrants” research demonstrated the large Bolivian population in Alexandria and other parts of Northern Virginia, have preserved Bolivian culture and maintained a connectivity to their homeland through social media and other means. Therefore, this research supports the claim that legislation will not deter Bolivian immigration and that high amount of remittances sent to Bolivia from the United States is unlikely to change. Knowing the progression of legislation affecting this large immigrant community in Alexandria is vital because to understand what made them choose the US and what laws they must now hide or confront to stay in the US. Deportation is a reality of every immigrant’s life, regardless of status, however experience is just as important. Bolivians are bringing their families and laws supporting or removing support to the families could significantly impact the amount of Bolivian immigrants in Alexandria, stripping an immigrant rich area of one of its more connected immigrant communities.


[1] Juan Antonio Morales, Juan Antonio and Jeffery D. Sachs, “Bolivia’s Economic Crisis,” National Bureau of Economic Research (1989), 58-65.

[2] Robert C. Thornett, “Bolivia in Motion: Migration Patterns of a Nation in Flux,” Scribd, April 20, 2009, Bolivianidad Abroad, accessed December 4, 2016,

[3] Robert C. Thornett, “Migration,” Bolivia in Motion: Exploring Geography in Changing Bolivia, August 26, 2015, accessed December 4, 2016,

[4] “Three Decades of Mass Immigration: The Legacy of the 1965 Immigration Act,” Center for Immigration Studies, September 1995, accessed December 4, 2016,

[5] Lyndon B. Johnson, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, vol. II (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1966), 1037-1040.

[6] “Three Decades of Mass Immigration: The Legacy of the 1965 Immigration Act,” Center for Immigration Studies.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Stephanie Stone and Christina Faubert, “1990 Immigration and Nationality Act,” U.S. Immigration Legislation Online, accessed December 4, 2016,

[10] Stephanie Stone and Christina Faubert, “1990 Immigration and Nationality Act,” U.S. Immigration Legislation Online, accessed December 4, 2016,

[11] George W. Bush, “Statement on Signing the Immigration Act of 1990,” The Presidency Project, November 29, 1990, accessed December 4, 2016,

[12] Beth Rowen, “Immigration Legislation: A Detailed Look at Immigration Legislation from the Colonial Period to the Present,” Info Please, 2015, accessed December 4, 2016,

[13] Tom Gjelten, A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015), 24-27.

[14] Rowen, “Immigration Legislation: A Detailed Look at Immigration Legislation from the Colonial Period to the Present.”

[15] Rowen, “Immigration Legislation: A Detailed Look at Immigration Legislation from the Colonial Period to the Present.”

[16] David Cole, “In Aid of Removal: Due Process Limits on Immigration Detention,” Emory Law Journal 51 (2002): 1004-1007, doi:10.2139/ssrn.356980.

[17]Cole, “In Aid of Removal,” 1004-1007.

[18] Rowen, “Immigration Legislation: A Detailed Look at Immigration Legislation from the Colonial Period to the Present.”

[19] Henry J. Chang, “The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996,” American Law, 2011, accessed December 4, 2016,

[20] “Lau v. Nichols 414 U.S. 563 (1974),” Justia U.S. Supreme Court, accessed December 4, 2016,

[21] 2010 U.S. Federal Census: Community Facts; Hispanic or Latino, Alexandria, Virginia, American Fact Finder, digital image, accessed November 8, 2016.

[22] “English Language Learners in Public Schools,” National Center for Education Statistics, May 2016, accessed November 08, 2016,; Fast Facts: Student Demographics,” Alexandria City Public Schools, September 30, 2015, accessed November 19, 2016,; “ACPS Monthly Enrollment Data: April 2016,” Alexandria City Public Schools, April 2016, accessed November 19, 2016,

[23] “Public Education for Immigrant Students: Understanding Plyler v. Doe,” American Immigration Council, October 24, 2012, accessed December 4, 2016,