Bracero Program

The Bracero Program (1942-1964) consisted of a set of legal measures that made it possible for 4.5 million Mexicans to work in agricultural work in the United States.

Bracero Program

With the United States fully engaged in World War II, there was a shortage of labor in the agricultural sector, so foreign workers had to be called in. And it is that, the American workforce had been reduced because millions of men had been forced to fight in Europe and the Pacific.

The origin of the Bracero Program is in the Californian town of Stockton, back in 1942. Although it began as the Mexican Agricultural Work Program, it would end up receiving the name of the Bracero Program, since Mexican day laborers were known as “braceros”.

Thus, the agreement on labor matters between the United States and Mexico established that Mexican day laborers should receive a minimum salary of 30 cents an hour, as well as determined conditions of dignity in terms of food, accommodation, and sanitation and hygiene.

Characteristics of the Bracero Program

Although the hiring of workers had been somewhat regulated between individuals, thanks to the Bracero Program there was a certain control of hiring by the Governments of Mexico and the United States. In this way, immigration went from being a familiar and often illegal phenomenon to becoming a regulated, temporary situation focused on the world of agriculture.

The United States tended to handle immigration in the same way with all countries. However, given its close relationship with Mexico, the demand for agricultural workers led it to establish a special bilateral relationship with its southern neighbor. All of this would allow the Bracero Program to last for twenty-two years. However, it should be noted that the Bracero Program was not without controversy, since the dignity of Mexican workers was not always respected.

Furthermore, the United States and Mexico did not always agree, since in 1954 the program was temporarily canceled. Finally, the United States realized that without the collaboration of Mexico it was not possible to manage an immigration labor program, while Mexico realized that it was impossible to prevent the emigration of its citizens.

Another aspect to be noted about the Bracero Program is that it established a regulated immigration, which was controlled according to the needs of labor focused mainly on farm workers.

The bilateral agreements reached between the United States and Mexico would allow Mexican day laborers to have a decent minimum wage, as well as to have equally decent working conditions in terms of accommodation, food, transportation, and safety and hygiene.

As we explained previously, the Bracero Program and relations between Mexico and the United States were not always easy. Thus, there were cases of discrimination in states such as Texas, where they were used to employing immigrants in an irregular situation as labor. However, the efficiency and proper functioning of the bureaucratic machinery of the Bracero Program ended up pushing Texas businessmen towards hiring immigrants in a regularized situation.

It should be noted that although the Bracero Program implied an increase in public spending and a greater deployment of resources when it comes to providing benefits, it did not translate into an increase in the prices of agricultural products.

Controversial aspects of the Bracero Program

Despite the Bracero Program marking the lines of regulated immigration and decent work, illegal immigration continued. And it is that the program did not satisfy the total demand of workers.

In the context of this controversy caused by irregular immigration, in 1952 it was prohibited to transport and shelter those who entered the United States illegally. However, later an amendment called "Texas Act" would be added that prevented employers from being punished for it.

The arrival of numerous Mexican workers did not leave American workers indifferent. Thus, the Americans protested the arrival of Mexican day laborers who were willing to work for much lower wages.

Among other problems were labor disputes when negotiating collective agreements. The lack of consensus between workers and employers caused Mexico to refuse to send workers, while the United States resorted to hiring workers without counting on Mexico or to legalize immigrants in an irregular situation.

The labor contracts signed under the Bracero Program left Mexican workers in a situation of weakness vis-à-vis the employer. The worker was limited to working in a certain place, it was temporary, and there was little supervision by the Mexican and US authorities. In fact, many times, businessmen did not comply with what was agreed in the negotiations.

An important chapter in the Bracero Program was the deployment of a large bureaucratic apparatus. Following the legal channels implied a lot of paperwork and costs for employers, used to the fact that, long ago, workers came directly to their facilities at no cost. On the other hand, in Mexico, workers had to suffer corruption in their own flesh, as they had to pay bribes to the authorities or perform favors.

Beyond the bureaucracy, the recruitment of Mexican workers took place in border areas, where workers were waiting in harsh conditions (hunger, physical weakness) and had to endure humiliating selection processes.

Another measure that caused a great stir was that the Mexican government, between 1943 and 1949, forced workers to deposit 10% of their savings in US banks that, later, would be transferred to the National Agricultural Credit Bank of Mexico. Unfortunately, all of their savings were never returned to the Mexican workers.