The Bracero Program Essay

On Thursday, November 20, 2014, President Barack Obama made an announcement saying that he “[will be] granting temporary legal status and work permits to nearly 5 million illegal immigrants.”[1] With this permit, illegal immigrants would have protection from being deported and given the opportunity to work legally for at least 3 years. Similarly, on August 4, 1942, there was an agreement that involved the United States and Mexico to allow “the use of Mexican agricultural labor on [the] United States farms and the influx of legal temporary Mexican workers.”[2] Although both events serve different purposes as to why the temporary permits are being granted, it is safe to say that because of the previous relationships between Mexico and the United States, they have set the foundation that began Mexican immigration and why it exists today.

To better understand how the legacy of the Bracero Program impacts the current political debate about Mexican immigration to the United States today, it is important to understand the history of Mexican immigration to the United States before the Bracero Program, why the Bracero Program began in the first place, and why it came to an end. Until then, we will not understand the big controversy there is today about illegal Mexican immigrants in the United States.

During the WWI, there was a demand for labor that automatically turned to Mexican laborers. The United States congress allowed Mexicans to work during the time period of 1917-1922, which later became known as the first “temporary farm-workers program,” similar to the Bracero Program. Eventually, about 500,000 Mexicans were returned to Mexico during the 1930s because the number of illegal immigrants increased drastically, as well as the number of Americans with no jobs.[3] Around that time, the Mexican Revolution against Porfirio Diaz also caused “more than 890,000 legal Mexican immigrants [to come] to the United States for refuge between 1910 and 1920” because many didn’t want to be involved or participate in the war.[4] During the Bracero Program in 1942-1964, there were “4.5 million work contracts signed” meaning that there were “approximately 2 million Braceros” (3).[1]Furthermore, in the 1950s, “only about 300 thousand legal Mexican immigrants entered in the United States, making 12% of the immigrant flow” (1).[2] As we can begin to see, the number of Mexican immigrants, legal or illegal, is like a roller-coaster because most of the time the number had some type of relationship between the difficult times that the United States was facing because during those times, Mexicans were needed to help the Americans, which facilitated immigration to a certain extent.

It is obvious that immigration from Mexico to the United States has always been occurring and there are historical events to prove it. But now it’s time to focus on the Bracero Program that took place from 1942-1964. The agreement between Mexico and the United States occurred on August 4, 1942. Because Americans were being sent to fight in the WWII, the United States began to have an insufficient amount of workers that would be needed for the jobs that were going to be left behind, which is why the Bracero Program was “initially intended to serve as a wartime relief measure” (3).[3] The United States and Mexican governments agreed that the Mexican workers would get provided with reasonable wages and living conditions and wouldn’t suffer any type of discrimination. Most Braceros were sent to Arizona, California, or Texas. The temporary agreement between the United States and Mexico that contracted Mexican laborers to work on farms and railroads gave immigrants the idea of opportunity and many wanted to be chosen to get a contract. Many men who’s attention was caught by the Bracero Program gathered around in the processing center in Monterrey, Mexico to get more information on how to get the temporary contract.

What they never realized was that the process would be very complicated and long, but they were still willing to apply due to the necessity because of the economic depression that was occurring in Mexico at the time. [4] At some point, some men wanted to give up because they thought that everything would be different. The Bracero Program officially ended in the year of 1947, but it was extended through the law known as the Public Law 78, which passed in 1951. The law was just placed to extend the Bracero Program for a longer time, except there were now “strict limitations for the farmer and the farm worker.”[5]The reason why the law was also implemented was because the amount of Mexican illegal immigrants started to increase, which was not the agreement that Mexico and the United States had. Contractors also began hiring illegal workers.

It is safe to assume that the main reason that the Bracero Program was terminated was because the number of illegal Mexican immigrants was getting out of control, but of course, there are other reasons as well as to why it actually ended. It began to be obvious when the amount of illegal immigrants was way too high because campaigns started to occur in order to fix the problem. In 1954, the “Operation Wetback” was a “mass repatriation campaign of undocumented workers,” resulting in “[the] return of 1.3 million workers to Mexico”(xxii). Also, the Hoover administration “[initiated] a campaign to rid the nation of illegal aliens” (xxxv).[5] It is also said that the “main reason given for the discontinuation of the program at the time was the assertion that the Bracero Program depressed the wages of the native-born Americans in agricultural industry”(3).[6] The Braceros were also being blamed for stealing their jobs, but the reality was that the Americans didn’t want to do the dirty work, and especially not for such cheap wages. Another reason for the ending of the Bracero Program was the “labor-saving mechanization.” [6] That meant that since the technology began to advance, there would be no more need to contract seasonal temporary workers because everything would soon be operated by machines. When the Bracero Program ended, it was clear that there was a “link between the end of the [program] and the beginning of the illegal flow, at least as measured by the number of the Mexican nationals aliens apprehended by the Border Patrol as they attempt[ed] to enter the United States” (3).[7] Another thing about the Bracero Program was that some Braceros never returned to their homes in Mexico after their contracts were over. Instead, they stayed illegally and some even got married in the United States. This is where the amount of illegal immigration begins to become a problem for America.

The issue of immigration in the United States today is mainly focused towards the Mexican group simply because they are now a big minority residing here. Since 2003, “nearly 11.6 million immigrants from Mexico reside[d] in the United States…accounting for 28 percent of all U.S. immigrants”[7] That number has increased greatly compared to the amount of Mexican immigrants in previous years of immigration coming from Mexico. The controversy today doesn’t seem like it has changed much from earlier years though. The problem that Americans have in terms of illegal Mexicans being in the United States is still that they are taking away jobs from them, something that was brought up back in the day as well. Also, it’s said that illegal Mexicans don’t pay taxes either. The reason that President Barack Obama didn’t receive much support when trying to grant temporary legal status and work permits to those 5 million illegal immigrants was because many see it as some form of amnesty, but it really isn’t because only those who meet certain requirements would qualify for it. Also, people that oppose to this from happening is also because they see it as some form of rewarding illegal immigrants for breaking the law, which is true to some extent, but the reasons that Mexicans come to the United States nowadays are the same reasons why they were coming years ago, for better job opportunities and to give their children a better future and lives. What’s the difference from then and now? Back then work permits were being granted to Mexicans, so why can’t the United States do the same now? It would definitely somewhat solve the immigration issue. Besides, the United States has a lot economic problems, and by allowing Mexican immigrants to come here legally and reside here, that would help the economy because even though it’s hard to admit, immigrant labor is one of the things that keep this country where it is at today. Mexicans do have some type of contribution over all and are paying taxes as well. But overall, I think it is very obvious that the Bracero Program, along with other events, have definitely been the foundation to the Mexican immigrants coming to the United States, legally and illegally. When the program was ended, it made Mexicans a bigger reason to immigrate here illegally, which is similar to what is going on today in the United States. Although there is much more security in the border, Mexicans are still immigrating into America seeking better opportunities that aren’t really given in their country.

Footnotes:

[1]Mize, Ronald L. and Swords, Alicia C. S. Consuming Mexican Labor: From the Bracero Program to NAFTA. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010)

[2]J. Borjas, George. The Evolution of the Mexican-born Workforce in the United States. Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2005.

[3]Mize, Ronald L. and Swords, Alicia C. S. Consuming Mexican Labor: From the Bracero Program to NAFTA. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010)

[4] The Bracero History Project. University of Texas: El Paso. 2011.

[5]Mize, Ronald L. and Swords, Alicia C. S. Consuming Mexican Labor: From the Bracero Program to NAFTA. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010

[6]J. Borjas, George. The Evolution of the Mexican-born Workforce in the United States. Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2005.

[7]J. Borjas, George. The Evolution of the Mexican-born Workforce in the United States. Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2005.

Bibliography:

  1. The Bracero History Project. University of Texas: El Paso. 2011
  2. J. Borjas, George. The Evolution of the Mexican-born Workforce in the United States. Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2005.
  3. Mize, Ronald L. and Swords, Alicia C. S. Consuming Mexican Labor: From the Bracero Program to NAFTA. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010
  4. “Bittersweet Harvest: Introduction/Introducción.” National Museum of American History. N.p, 04 Apr. 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.
  5. Boyer, Dave. “Obama Offers Amnesty to 5 Million Illegal Immigrants, Defies GOP.” Washington Times. The Washington Times, n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.
  6. “Braceros: History, Compensation – Rural Migration News | Migration Dialogue.” Braceros: History, Compensation – Rural Migration News | Migration Dialogue. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.
  7. “Mexican Revolution and Immigration.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.
  8. “Bracero Program.” Immigration to North America. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.
  9. “Bracero History Archive:About.” Omeka RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.

Images:

  1. WWII Poster, 1956 http://americanhistory.si.edu/bracero/introduction
  2. Processing Center, 1956 http://americanhistory.si.edu/bracero/journey
  3. Bracero and Wife, 1949 http://americanhistory.si.edu/bracero/in-the-us

 

 

 

 

Categorized
section 26 (12:10-1)
Sources:

[1] Calisphere – "The Bracero Program," The Regents of The University of California, 2012. (http://www.calisphere.universityofcalifornia.edu/themed_collections/subtopic5c.html).
[2] "The Bracero Program (1942-1964 ): A Critical Appraisal," Durand, Jorge, 2007. (http://meme.phpwebhosting.com)
[3] Bracero Program History Archive (http://braceroarchive.org/)
[4] Goldfarb, Ronald L.,  A Caste of Despair,  (Ames: The Iowa State University Press, 1981) p. 118  (http://www1.american.edu/ted/bracero.htm).
[5] "President Bush Proposes New Temporary Worker Program January 7, 2004," The White House website (http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2004/01/20040107-3.html).
[6] Rivas-Rodriguez, Maggie, Mexican Americans and World War II (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005).
[7] Ashabranner, Brent, Dark Harvest, (Toronto, Canada: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1985).
[8] Wood, Ethel, The Immigrants (Evanston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001).
[9]Wood, Ethel,The Immigrants, (Evanston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001).
[10] "Cesar Chavez Quotes,"  (www.brainyquotes.com).
[11]  Gregory, James, Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project (http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/farmwk_ch1.htm).
[12] Gamboa, Erasmo, Mexican Labor & WW II: Braceros in the Pacific Northwest, 1942-1947 (Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1990), 106.
[13] Hamrick, Karen ed., Rural America at a Glance, RDRR-94-1, (Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, September 2002).
[14] Gregory, James. Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project (http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/farmwk_ch1.htm Feb. 10 2012).
[15] Bracero Program History Archive (http://braceroarchive.org/).

What follows is Cameron Holt'sannotated bibliography of "Works Cited."

Primary sources:

http://www1.american.edu/ted/bracero.htm

The source is a photograph of an alien laborer’s permit and identification card assigned at the time of registration as a Mexican Bracero by the Farm Service Administration. There are many stamps on it, representing dates of entry into the United States. When the Bracero received a stamp, he also was physically inspected. A photo of the Mexican Bracero is placed on the Identification card. Used in Appendix I.

"Mexican Workers Wanted in October," Northwest Farm News, September 9, 1943, The Oregon State University Library,

The advertisement noted 6,000 imported Mexican workers were wanted for the month of October in 1943. Farmers in Washington State needed Mexican workers to work on their farms in October. Used in Appendix IV.

Secondary sources:

Calisphere – The Bracero Program, The Regents of The University of California, 2012.             http://www.calisphere.universityofcalifornia.edu/themed_collections/subtopic5c.html

This website gave an overview of how the Bracero Program started during World War II.  It was a good source because it also had questions to consider in writing the paper because it is a resource for the California history projects.

Gamboa, Erasmo. Mexican Labor and World War II: Braceros in the Pacific Northwest, 1942- 1947 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990).

This book source is the one to use to find out about how the Mexican workers came to America. The book provides an overview of the history and timeline, as well as the political and social conditions surrounding the Bracero Program.   The book refers to current implications of the Bracero program with the farmworkers and the conditions. There are images of the housing of Mexican workers. Also there are two illustrations of the timelines. One illustrates how many Mexicans came through the Bracero Program and the other illustrates what kind of work they had to do.

"President Bush Proposes New Temporary Worker Program," The White House website (http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2004/01/20040107-3.html).

This source proves that even today we continue to import Mexican workers to America, and we are still struggling with political and social issues. Thousands Mexicans every year migrate to the United States.  The U.S. is still seeking acceptable solutions for that impact; one way is by attempting to develop a Temporary Worker Program. This helped me explain in my paper that although the Bracero Program officially ended in 1964 it is still relevant today. 

Gregory, James N.  Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project, University of Washington website (http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/about.htm)

This source explained the history of the Bracero Program. The book defined why there was a Bracero Program and its political impact. Unlike other sources it didn’t explain how the workers felt; instead, it described what they had to do. The website gave background information though tons of articles. I printed out many pages for reference, and I plan to use what I learn throughout my NHD project.

Pegler-Gordon, Anna, In Sight of America (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2009).

This source helped me understand about the different ways Mexican people came to America. There were many photos of immigrant families who came to America and of the housing they lived in. The book, In Sight of America really helped me visually understand what it was like during the Bracero Program through its vivid images. In the middle of the book there was a timeline showing how many Mexicans came to America in a specific years over time.

Rivas-Rodriguez, Maggie, Mexican Americans and World War II (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005).

The source revealed to me the different types of Mexican families that came to America. In the book there are numerous photos of families and working men in America. It described how hard it was for the men to leave their families in Mexico while they worked in the United States. For those workers who brought their families it was especially tough because they had more to deal with besides just working. This was a great source and will help me with my project.

Ashabranner, Brent, Dark Harvest (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited,1985).

This book took an illustrative view of what it was like to be a farm worker in the Bracero Program era. In the book there are lots of photographs. The photos illustrated how a regular farm worker’s day went. This described the life of a migrant farm worker in words and photographs.

Wood, Ethel, The Immigrants (Evanston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001).

The book introduced lots of different terms of the Bracero Program. It presented Cesar Chavez’s Address to The United Farm Workers of America. Also the book gave information about Chavez and other men protesting for the rights of the workers.

Durand, Jorge, "The Bracero Program (1942-1964) A Critical Appraisal," (http://meme.phpwebhosting.com).

This report was useful in my paper. It explained background information about the Bracero Program such as the laws that provided guidance to the Bracero Program and the timeline of the program.

"Cesar Chavez Quotes," BrainyQuote.com website (www.brainyquotes.com).

This source presented several Cesar Chavez quotes. In my paper I use two quotes.

Bracero Program History Archive, Bracero Archive website (http://braceroarchive.org/).

This source provided a photograph of the barracks that the Mexican migrant laborers lived in. In the picture there are three kids playing in the mud in front of the barracks. The barracks are the size of a shed. There are no windows and clothes are hanging on a string outside. Used in Appendix II.

United Farmer Workers website (http://www.ufw.org/ Feb. 10, 2012).

Image of Cesar Chavez and the illustration of the black eagle that represents the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) logo found on the UFW historical photos library. Used in appendix III.

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