What was the bracero program? An executive order known as the Mexican Farm Labor Program established the Bracero Program in 1942. This is a series of laws and diplomatic agreements between the United States and Mexico that permitted millions of Mexican men to work legally in the United States on short-term labor contracts.
The essence of these agreements was to address the national agricultural labor shortage that occurred during World War II. In this article, we will be discussing what the bracero program was, how it worked, and its purpose.
Background of the bracero program
What was the bracero program and what brought about it? Since the Mexican Revolution (1910–20), Mexico had been experiencing political, social, and economic problems. Due to this, many Mexican citizens immigrated to the United States. These Mexican workers even helped support the U.S. economy during the U.S. involvement in World War I (1914–18). Nevertheless, unemployment in the United States rose drastically after the Great Depression began in 1929. Hence, many U.S. citizens blamed the Mexican workers for taking jobs that they felt should go to the Americans.
As a result of the mounting unrest, a number of Mexican immigrants voluntarily returned to Mexico. In some cases, local and state authorities began repatriation campaigns to return immigrants, including the ones that were legal U.S. citizens. It is estimated that in the 1930s, about 400,000 -1,000,000 Mexicans and Mexican Americans voluntarily left or were forced out of the United States.
However, with the onset of World War II (1939–45), the U.S. was once again in need of extra workers because record numbers of Americans entered military service, while the workers left at home switched to the better-paying manufacturing jobs that were suddenly available. As a result, there were not enough workers to take on agricultural and other unskilled jobs. Hence, in order to meet this need, the U.S. and Mexican governments created the Bracero Program. The bracero program also offered the U.S. government the chance to make up for some of the repatriations that occurred in the 1930s.
What was the bracero program and how did it work?
The Bracero program was a series of laws and diplomatic agreements that was initiated on August 4, 1942, when the United States signed the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement with Mexico. The bracero program originates from the Spanish term bracero which means ‘manual laborer‘ or ‘one who works using his arms‘. This series of laws and diplomatic agreements between the United States and Mexico permitted millions of Mexican men to work legally in the United States on short-term labor contracts.
The Bracero Program was established in 1942 by an executive order called the Mexican Farm Labor Program. This series of diplomatic accords addressed a national agricultural labor shortage during World War II and implicitly, redressed previous depression-era deportations and repatriations that unjustly affected Mexican Americans who were U.S. citizens.
The U.S. sought labor during World War II from millions of Braceros, who would return to their country of origin after their work permit expired. The recruitment center for the program was El Paso, Texas, the U.S. point of entry from Ciudad Juarez, which the U.S. Agricultural Department and independent farmer associations administered with the Farm Bureau managing English-language contracts. The program also allowed the importation of contract laborers from Guam as a temporary measure during the early phases of World War II.
The agreement was extended with the Migrant Labor Agreement of 1951 (Pubic Law 78), which was enacted as an amendment to the Agricultural Act of 1949 by the United States Congress. This set the official parameters for the bracero program until its termination in 1964. With H-2 visas, temporary agricultural workers started being admitted under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, and starting with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, have been admitted on H-2A visas.
How did the bracero program work?
The U.S. government, under the bracero program, offered Mexican citizens short-term contracts to work in the United States. The government guaranteed that these Mexican citizens would be protected from discrimination and substandard wages and that the pay for the braceros would be the same as the U.S. citizens working the same job in the same area.
Hence, the bracero program guaranteed the braceros decent living conditions such as adequate shelter, sanitation, and food as well as a minimum wage of 30 cents an hour. The braceros were to receive free housing, health care, and transportation back to Mexico when their contracts expired. They were also guaranteed protections from forced military service and were assured that a part of their wages was to be put into a private savings account in Mexico.
These enticements and offers prompted thousands of unemployed Mexican workers to join the bracero program. The braceros were either single men or family men who left their families behind. The bracero program lasted 22 years and offered employment contracts to 5 million braceros in 24 U.S. states which was the largest foreign worker program in U.S. history. This program operated as a joint program under the Department of Labor, the State Department, and the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) in the Department of Justice.
The first braceros were admitted for the sugar-beet harvest season on September 27, 1942. From 1942 – 1947, only a relatively small number of braceros were admitted, accounting for less than 10% of U.S. hired workers. In fact, the U.S. government allowed an average of 200,000 braceros per year from 1948 to 1964. Even at that, both the U.S. and Mexican employers became heavily dependent on braceros for willing workers and bribery was a common way to get a contract during this time. As a result, several years of the short-term agreement led to an increase in undocumented immigration as well as an increase in a growing preference for operating outside of the parameters set by the bracero program.
Related: Effects of the industrial revolution
What was the purpose of the bracero program?
The purpose of the bracero program was to respond to labor shortages as a result of World War II. Having so many Americans in the military made farmers worry that they would not have enough agricultural labor to meet their needs. Hence, the U.S. and Mexican governments negotiated a series of agreements and developed the bracero program to allow Mexican laborers to come to the United States on short-term contracts as agricultural workers.
There were two main reasons why the Mexican government entered the agreement with the U.S. government. First, the Mexican government wanted the braceros to learn new agricultural skills that they could bring back to Mexico to enhance crop production in the country. Second, the Mexican government expected the braceros to bring the money they earned back to Mexico, in order to help stimulate the Mexican economy.
The bracero program also offered the U.S. government the chance to make up for some of the repatriations that occurred in the 1930s. The program began in Stockton, California in August 1942 and was intended to fill the labor shortage in agriculture because of the war. Mexico and the United States agreed on a set of protocols for the bracero program that would protect Braceros from poor wages and discrimination.
Challenges of the program
Even though Mexico and U.S. governments agreed on a set of protocols for the bracero program that would protect Braceros from poor wages and discrimination, braceros still suffered discrimination and racism in the United States. For instance, many theatres and restaurants either refused to serve Mexicans or segregated them from white customers. Discrimination continued and Braceros experienced exposure to deadly chemicals, surcharges for room and board, and deducted pay.
Also, despite the U.S. government guaranteeing fair wages for the braceros, many employers ignored the guidelines and still paid less to Mexican laborers. This was especially true for the undocumented Mexican laborers who also arrived. Not only were the wages of undocumented Mexican laborers even less than legally hired workers, but some employers also went further to exploit them by not providing basic needs for the workers, such as stable housing and access to health care.
The program was even banned in Texas for several years during the mid-1940s due to the discrimination and maltreatment of Mexicans including the various lynchings along the border. The Texas Governor, Coke Stevenson on several occasions pleaded to the Mexican government that the ban is lifted but to no avail.
With time, a widespread public outcry arose due to the growing influx of undocumented workers in the United States. Many Americans argued that the use of undocumented immigrants in the labor force kept wages for U.S. agricultural workers low. Therefore, the U.S. government unable to solve these problems ended the Bracero Program in 1964.
What was the bracero program? The Bracero program was an agreement between the Mexican and U.S. governments to permit Mexican citizens to take on agricultural short-term labor contracts in the United States. Mexico and the United States agreed on a set of protocols for the bracero program that would protect Braceros from poor wages and discrimination. However, despite the promises from the U.S. government, braceros still suffered discrimination and racism in the United States.
The bracero program resulted in an influx of undocumented and documented laborers, remittances to Mexico by Braceros, and 22 years of cheap labor from Mexico. However, as mechanization became more widespread, the Bracero Program concluded on December 31, 1964. Upon the termination of the Bracero Program in 1964, it brought more than four million Braceros to work in U.S. agriculture and on railroads.