Was the Bracero program good or bad? The Bracero program (Mexican farm labor program) was an agreement that was signed between the U.S. and Mexican governments to allow Mexican citizens to take on agricultural short-term labor contracts in the United States. The bracero program was created to address the national agricultural labor shortage that occurred during World War II. In this article, we will be discussing how the Bracero program was a good or bad program.
What was the Bracero program?
The Bracero Program was established in July 1942 by an executive order issued by President Roosevelt. It was initiated on August 4, 1942, when the United States and Mexico signed the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement. The program was to last only until the end of the war but was later extended by the Migrant Labor Agreement in 1951. However, the bracero program was terminated in 1964 and only saw a 22-year duration, providing jobs to nearly 5 million braceros in 24 U.S. states. This was the largest foreign worker program in U.S. history.
Under the basic terms of the bracero program, the employed Mexican farm workers (braceros) were to be paid a minimum wage of 30 cents an hour and were guaranteed food, decent living conditions, sanitation, and housing. The terms of the agreement also promised that the braceros were to be protected from racial discrimination. Braceros were also guaranteed protections from forced military service and a part of their wages was to be put into a private savings account in Mexico.
All these offers and enticements prompted thousands of unemployed Mexican workers to join the bracero program. The Mexican workers were either single men or family men who left their families behind. The first braceros were admitted on September 27, 1942, for the sugar-beet harvest season.; then, from 1948 to 1964, an average of 200,000 braceros were allowed into the U.S. per year.
The program operated as a joint program under the Department of Labor, the State Department, and the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS). However, several years of the bracero program led to an increase in undocumented immigration as well as an increase in a growing preference for operating outside of the bracero program guidelines. Hence, the program saw its end in 1964.
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Was the Bracero program good or bad?
The question of whether the Bracero program was good or bad has been a historical debate. The fact remains that the story of the Bracero Program is definitely one of both struggle and success. In as much as the bracero program was a good initiative, it had its bad effects. During the course of this program, braceros contributed immensely to U.S. agriculture. They assisted the United States’ war effort and forever advanced the productivity of American agriculture. Their experiences contributed to lasting positive impacts on U.S. immigration and labor policy. However, many of them suffered severe exploitation and discrimination.
So, was the Bracero program good or bad? The fact remains that the bracero program had its advantages and disadvantages. Hence, people may look at the bracero program as good or bad, depending on the context in which they see it. Here are some of the reasons why the bracero program can be considered good.
Reasons why the Bracero program was good
- The bracero program solved the shortage of labor during World War II
- The bracero program provided employment for Mexican workers
- An approach to stimulate the Mexico economy
The bracero program solved the shortage of labor during World War II
As a result of World War II, so many Americans were in the military. This made farmers worried that they would not have enough agricultural labor to meet their needs. In response to this, the bracero program was signed with the Mexican government to allow Mexican citizens to take on agricultural short-term labor contracts in the United States, just to fix labor shortages. For the Americans, the Bracero Program was a good opportunity to keep their land-producing agriculture.
So, was the Bracero program good enough to fix this issue? Yes, it was. The Bracero Program assisted the United States’ war effort and forever advanced the productivity of American agriculture. The creation of the bracero program also offered the U.S. government a chance to make up for some of the repatriations that occurred to Mexican Americans in the 1930s.
The bracero program provided employment for Mexican workers
The bracero program was a great opportunity for Mexican workers to get temporary employment in the United States. The owners of the land on which the worker worked were responsible for their welfare. They pay braceros for their work and give them transportation to and from the farms. A lot of Mexican workers saw the bracero program as a greener pasture. Hence, because of the bracero program, many of them entered the United States and changed their lives.
So, was the Bracero program good or bad for the braceros themselves? The program was evidently a good thing for the braceros because they could afford to have money to help their families with housing, food, and education for their children. However, there were numerous reports in 1964, that the braceros were underpaid, overworked, harassed, and housed in poor living conditions.
An approach to stimulate the Mexico economy
Was the Bracero program good or bad for the Mexican government? There were two main reasons why the Mexican government signed the Mexican Farm Labor agreement with the U.S. government. First, the Mexican government wanted these Mexican workers to learn new agricultural skills that they could bring back to the country in order to enhance crop production in Mexico.
Second, these Mexican workers were expected to bring the money they earned back to Mexico, in order to help stimulate the country’s economy. Braceros, as part of their contract, agreed to have ten percent of their wages withheld and placed in a fund controlled by the Mexican government. Hence, the bracero program was a good approach to stimulate the country’s economy.
Why was the bracero program bad?
Despite the benefits of the Bracero Program, the program suffered from significant political and social problems. The bracero program had some bad effects in the long run. It brought about an increase in undocumented immigrants, and farm labor wages stagnated at low levels for decades. American workers were subtly pushed out of farm work. Also, the U.S. growers happily adjusted their practices to a surplus of cheap, easily transferrable workers, and the braceros were routinely underpaid and treated badly.
The presence of braceros held down the wages of U.S farm workers
Why was the bracero program bad? During the course of this program, braceros became the favored workers of U.S. growers, particularly in the West. This was to the detriment of U.S. workers as farm labor wages stagnated at low levels for decades and American workers were subtly pushed out of farm work. Hence, the bracero program created a large pool of cheap labor that held down farm wages for American workers.
The use of undocumented braceros in the labor force kept the wages for U.S. agricultural workers relatively low. The U.S. Department of Labor raised concerns about the program, citing evidence that large U.S. growers were hiring braceros when the local labor supply was plentiful, which was artificially lowering wages for U.S. farm workers.
Increase in undocumented immigrants
Only about 260,000 Mexican braceros were hired from 1942 to 1947, which amounted to less than 10% of the total number of workers hired in the U.S. over the period. The inability of the Mexican government to process the unexpectedly large number of program applicants prompted many Mexican citizens to enter the U.S. without documentation. Hence, the American growers that became increasingly dependent on Mexican workers found a way around the Bracero Program’s complicated contract process by hiring undocumented immigrants.
So judging by the immigration challenges that were faced, was the Bracero program good or bad? The program caused a rapidly growing number of undocumented migrants which drove the United States to launch ‘Operation Wetback’. This was the largest deportation sweep in American history. Within two years of the operation, over 1.1 million undocumented workers were returned to Mexico.
Mistreatment and discrimination of the Braceros
Under the basic terms of the bracero program, the employed Mexican farm workers (braceros) were to be paid a minimum wage of 30 cents an hour and were guaranteed food, decent living conditions, sanitation, and housing. The terms of the agreement also promised that the braceros were to be protected from racial discrimination. However, despite the promises from the U.S. government, many employers ignored the guidelines of the bracero program and still paid less to Mexican laborers. This was especially the case for the undocumented Mexican laborers.
The wages of these undocumented braceros were less than legally hired workers, and some employers went further to exploit them by not providing basic needs like stable housing and access to health care for them. Throughout the program’s existence, it was besieged by accusations from civil rights and farm labor activists that many braceros suffered gross mistreatment.
Braceros complained of overt racial discrimination, unsafe housing, repeated disputes over unpaid wages, and the absence of health care. In fact, over a dozen strikes and work stoppages were staged between 1943 and 1954, by braceros protesting against racial discrimination, low wages, and poor working and living conditions. However, despite the mistreatment and discrimination, most braceros endured, with the expectations of making more money than they could have made in Mexico.
Also, the braceros faced unfair treatment from the Mexican government. Braceros, as part of their contract, agreed to have ten percent of their wages withheld and placed in a fund controlled by the Mexican government. However, an overwhelming majority of these workers never received compensation and the whereabouts of the funds remain unknown.
Disruption in the family and social life of braceros
So, was the bracero program good or bad for the social life of the braceros? During the course of the program, a lot of braceros left their families behind. The Catholic Church in Mexico even objected to the Bracero program because it disrupted family life by separating husbands and wives. The church was of the opinion that the program would tempt the migrants to drink, gamble, and entertain prostitutes, as well as expose them to Protestant missionaries in the United States. However, in order to address some of these concerns, the American Catholic Church, in 1953, started assigning priests to some bracero communities and engaged in outreach programs specifically for the migrant braceros.
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