Why did the Bracero Program end?

Why did the Bracero Program end? The Bracero program (Mexican Farm Labor Program) was a series of laws and diplomatic agreements that was signed by the U.S. and Mexican governments during World War II to permit millions of Mexican men to work legally in the United States on short-term labor contracts on farms. The bracero program was initiated on August 4, 1942, but ended on December 31, 1964, due to certain reasons. In this article, we will discuss why the bracero program ended.

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Bracero Program explained

During World War II, the bracero program was created to recruit Mexican workers, which were all men (without their families) to work on short-term contracts on farms and in other war industries. The bracero program was initiated on August 4, 1942, and continued after the war until it ended in 1964. The reason why the bracero program was created was mainly to fill the labor shortage in agriculture that occurred as a result of the war.

Why did the Bracero Program end?
Why did the Bracero Program end?

During World War II (1939–45), a lot of Americans entered military service, and the workers that were left at home went for the available manufacturing jobs that were paying better. Hence, there were not enough workers to take on agricultural jobs and so the U.S. government signed an agreement with the Mexican government and created the Bracero Program which began in Stockton, California.

The bracero Program operated as a joint program under the Department of Labor, the State Department, and the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS). Under the program, the Mexican laborers (braceros) were promised adequate shelter, decent living conditions in labor camps, food, sanitation, and a minimum wage pay of 30 cents per hour. The braceros were also guaranteed that they would not be subject to discrimination. However, some of them still suffered discrimination and maltreatment.

The bracero program generally lasted 22 years and offered employment contracts to approximately 4 to 5 million braceros in 24 states of the U.S. This was the largest foreign worker program in the history of the United States. However, consequently, several years of the bracero program resulted in an increase in undocumented immigration. The bracero program persisted until 1964 when labor and civil rights reformers successfully pressured the program to be terminated.

Related: Social Effects of the Industrial Revolution

Why did the Bracero Program end?

The Bracero program came to an end due to certain reasons, such as the economic evidence that the presence of Braceros reduced the wages of U.S farm workers, the mechanization of cotton and sugar beet harvesting, the increase in undocumented immigration, and the political agreement to end the competition between Braceros and US farm workers in the fields. The US Department of Labor, under Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, concluded that the farm wages in areas where Braceros dominated the farm workforce did not rise and that Braceros were adversely affecting US farm workers. Over time, these concerns contributed to the U.S. decision to end the bracero program.

The bracero program caused an increase in illegal workers

The Bracero program caused an increase in both legal and illegal workers coming to the United States from Mexico. An increase in the illegal migration of Mexicans into the U.S. was one of the reasons why the Bracero Program came to an end. Some of these guest workers, once their contracts ended, would sometimes return to the United States illegally and employers were not held accountable for employing illegal migrants.

The number of wetbacks and Braceros increased together in the 1950s, which prompted the Immigration and Naturalization Service to launch Operation Wetback in June 1954. This was launched in order to address the overwhelming amount of undocumented migrants in the United States. The operation sent back illegal workers who came over to the states at the initial start of the program and also those that felt the need to extend their stay in the U.S. after their labor contracts were terminated. In the first year of the operation, over a million Mexicans were sent back to Mexico and at the end of the operation, 3.8 million Mexicans were repatriated.

The presence of braceros held down the wages of U.S farm workers

Most 1950s and 1960s studies were of the opinion that Braceros depressed the wages of U.S. farm workers. These conclusions were one of the reasons why Congress ended the bracero program. The bracero program resulted in an increase in labor-intense agricultural practices that depended on many people handling the planting and harvesting of crops. Due to the large, inexpensive labor pool at hand, many farmers continued to use these labor-intensive practices. Hence, the bracero program created a large pool of cheap labor that held down farm wages for American workers.

The November 1960 CBS documentary Harvest of Shame was able to convince President John Kennedy that the Braceros were adversely affecting the working conditions, wages, and employment opportunities of U.S. agricultural workers. The U.S. Department of labor in 1959 demanded that American workers are given the same wages and benefits as the braceros. This was written into law and signed by President Kennedy as an extension of Public Law 78 in 1961. Hence, U.S. workers were guaranteed the same benefits as the braceros.

Shortly after this law was passed, bracero employment came down from 437,000 workers in 1959 to 186,000 workers in 1963. Farmers tried to preserve the program in Congress but lost. In 1957–1958, the Department of Labor began closing a number of bracero camps. During a 1963 debate, an extension of the bracero program was rejected by the House of Representatives. Nevertheless, the Senate approved an extension of the bracero program which required U.S. workers to be provided with the same non-wage benefits as braceros. There was a final one-year extension of the bracero program but without the non-wage benefits and so the program saw its end in 1964.

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The aftermath of the end of the bracero program

The end of the Bracero program resulted in a sharp jump in farm wages. There were three major responses to the termination of the Bracero program in U.S. agriculture. The first response was the formation of associations by farmers that acted as super labor contractors to recruit and supervise fewer U.S. workers, increasing worker earnings.

Labor-saving mechanization was the second response to the end of the Bracero program. Engineers developed a machine to cut the tomato plant and shake off the tomatoes, thus, reducing the number of pickers needed by over 90%. Plant scientists, on the other hand, developed a uniformly ripening tomato that was processed into ketchup and other tomato products.

The third response to the end of the Bracero program was successful unionization. In the fall of 1965, the National Farm Workers Association joined a strike that was called by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, which included mostly Filipino grape pickers. In the spring of 1966, the combined groups renamed the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) and won a 40% wage increase for grape pickers. This was largely successful because no Braceros were available.

See also: Positive effects of the industrial revolution

Why did the Bracero Program end?- Video

A video explaining the bracero program and why it ended
Obotu Agape Oguche
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