Bracero Program

Bracero Program

The Bracero Program, (from the Spanish word "brazo", meaning arm), was a temporary contract labor program initiated by an August 1942 exchange of diplomatic notes between the United States and Mexico.


The program was initially prompted by a demand for manual labor during World War II, and begun with the U.S. government bringing in a few hundred experienced Mexican agricultural laborers to harvest sugar beets in the Stockton, California area. The program soon spread to cover most of the United States and provided workers for the agriculture labor market. As an important corollary, the railroad bracero program was independently negotiated to supply U.S. railroads initially with unskilled workers for track maintenance but eventually to cover other unskilled and skilled labor. By 1945, the quota for the agricultural program was more than 50,000 braceros to be employed in U.S. agriculture at any one time, and for the railroad program 75,000.

The railroad program ended promptly with the conclusion of World War II, in 1945, but the agricultural program under various forms survived until 1964, when the two governments ended it as a response to harsh criticisms and reports of human rights abuses.

The workers who participated in the Bracero Program have generated significant local and international struggles challenging the US government and Mexican government to identify and return deductions taken from their pay, from 1942 to 1948, for savings accounts which they were legally guaranteed to receive upon their return to Mexico at the conclusion of their contracts. Many never received their savings. Lawsuits presented in federal courts in California, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, highlighted the substandard conditions and documented the ultimate destiny of the savings accounts deductions, but the suit was thrown out because the Mexican banks in question never operated in the United States.


Even though the United States has made extensive use of Mexican labor in its agricultural sector since the early 1900s, the Bracero Program changed the face of immigration policy in the United States. The Bracero Program was a guest worker program that ran between the years of 1942 and 1964. Over the twenty-two year period, The Mexican Farm Labor Program, informally known as the Bracero Program, sponsored some 4.5 million border crossings of guest workers from Mexico (some among these representing repeat visits by returned "braceros"). Historian David Gutierrez argues that no other American immigration policy had more of an effect on the ethnic Mexican community than the Bracero Program, that the Bracero Program made immigration a political issue.

The end of the Bracero program in 1964 was quickly followed by the formation of the United Farm Workers, and the subsequent transformation of American migrant labor under the activist leadership of César Chávez, a prominent critic of the bracero program. Dolores Huerta was also an activist leader and co-founder of the United Farm Workers. According to Manuel Garcia y Griego, a political scientist and author of "The Importation of Mexican Contract Laborers to the United States 1942-1964", [Manuel García y Griego, “The Importation of Mexican Contract Laborers to the United States, 1942-1964,” in David G. Gutiérrez, ed. "Between Two Worlds: Mexican Immigrants in the United States" (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources,1996), 45-85] the Contract-Labor Program

“left an important legacy for the economies, migration patterns, and politics of the United States and Mexico.”
Griego’s article discusses the profound and persuasive bargaining position of both countries, arguing that the Mexican government lost all real bargaining power after 1950.
“Mexico lacked either the political will or the policy instruments to withhold the labor of its workers on whose behalf it was negotiating, and its cooperation with the United States in this and other issue areas were no longer vital.”
It was evident at this point that the United States wielded the power. This guest worker program continued until 1964 when the U.S. deemed it no longer vital for American production and industry.

Today, the United States is still an attractive destination for immigrants, both legal and illegal, from all over the world, offering economic opportunity and social mobility. The United States continues to grant entrance to those immigrants it deems useful and non-threatening, although not all immigrants, such as those admitted due to family reunification, have demonstrated their potential usefulness.

Ernesto Galarza also wrote a book titled "Merchants of Labor" about this issue of contract workers.


Beginning as a result of labor shortages in 1942, the “Bracero” Program bolstered agricultural prosperity until 1964 largely at the expense of Mexican laborers. Initially, employers in agricultural sectors lobbied for a steady and inexpensive supply of laborers (ideally from Mexico). Consequently, the United States, in agreement with the Mexican government, proposed a program for the temporary or seasonal labor of Mexican Nationals under contracts. Considering poverty and low wages for farm workers in Mexico, the United States quickly acquired a surplus of highly inexpensive labor. Respectively, the majority of immigration into the United States was strictly under contract of labor; however, several factors also contributed to the beginning of mass undocumented migration into the United States.

Cultural References

Protest singer Phil Ochs's song, "Bracero", focuses on the exploitation of the Mexican workers in the program.

See also

* Maquiladora
* Operation Wetback
* Guest worker program


:2. Handbook of Texas Online []

External links

* [ The Bracero Project]
* [ The 1942 Bracero Agreement (revised April, 1946)]
* [ Los Braceros: Strong Arms to Aid the USA - Public Television Program]
* [ Bracero History Archive]
* [ The Bracero Program: Legal Temporary Farmworkers from Mexico, 1942-1964]
* [ Braceros in Oregon Photograph Collection]
* [ Braceros '10% Savings' program documented through archives of Wells Fargo bank]

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