Enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt between 1933 and 1936, the New Deal was a sweeping series of federal programs and reforms designed to counter the effects of the Great Depression. Although the 1930s were a period of net loss of immigrants — the foreign-born population decreased from 11.6% to just 8.8% over the decade—immigrants played a role both in setting the stage for the New Deal and receiving a portion of its benefits.
Herbert Hoover’s presidency had been especially negative for immigrants, as new strict quota system reduced total numbers and penalized immigrants who weren’t from the British Isles or Western Europe. Between 1929 and 1932 deportation sweeps and other raids in resulted in the Mexican-born population in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas dropping from 616,998 to 377,433.
Franklin D. Roosevelt won the 1932 presidential election partially by drawing U.S. citizens from Jewish and Italian immigrant communities into national politics. The FDR administration ended some of Hoover’s harshest anti-immigrant practices. Few of the New Deal’s programs specifically targeted the needs of immigrant communities, bot sociologists have noted that immigrants from Europe benefited more from New Deal programs than did Mexican immigrants or black Americans.
One New Deal program that captured a snapshot of immigrant life during the time was the Federal Writers’ Project, which collected narratives of many immigrants in the American Life Histories initiative.
During the Great Depression and New Deal eras, much of the most important migration during the era was internal, as “Dust Bowl Refugees” from the parched and ravaged Great Plains region looked for work at migrant camps in California and elsewhere.