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Bracero Program Video Storytelling Project

HIST 3364-Dr.Saxon
Bracero Program and Texas


BRACERO PROGRAM. On August 4, 1942, the United States government signed the Mexican Farm Labor Program Agreement with Mexico, the first among several agreements aimed at legalizing and controlling Mexican migrant farmworkers along the southern border of the United States. Managed by several government agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, as a temporary, war-related measure to supply much-needed workers during the early years of World War II, the Bracero (Spanish for "arm-man"—manual laborer) program continued uninterrupted until 1964. The agreement guaranteed a minimum wage of thirty cents an hour and humane treatment (in the form of adequate shelter, food, sanitation, etc.) of Mexican farmworkers in the United States. During the first five years of the program, Texas farmers chose not to participate in the restrictive accord. In 1943 the Texas growers, through the American Farm Bureau Federation, lobbied in Washington to weaken the terms of the agreement, since they suspected that the accord would eventually apply to seasonal workers in other areas, domestic service, and other related fields of temporary employment. Texas farmers, in the meantime, opted to bypass the Bracero program and hire farmworkers directly from Mexico. These unauthorized workers, often referred to pejoratively as "wetbacks," entered the United States illegally.

Secondary source-explains program and Texas involvement

Migrant Farm Workers Organizing Movement Collection (1968-1972):

The Independent Workers Association was organized by Eugene Nelson in the Rio Grande Valley in 1966. It affiliated that year with the National Farm Workers Association which then merged soon after with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee to form the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee. Though represented heavily with Mexican-Americans the migrant farm workers movement also included white and black farm workers.

Primary/Secondary sources expected to be found in special collections

Mexican American Farm Workers Collection:

This collection contains contains a great deal of information about the United Farm Workers and the organizations that supported its efforts to alleviate the plight of the farm workers.

Primary/Secondary sources expected to be found in special collections


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Bracero Program
Bill Ong Hing
Anti-Immigration in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia. Ed. Kathleen R. Arnold. Vol. 1. Santa
Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2011. p82-86.
Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Kathleen R. Arnold, Editor
Page 82
Bracero Program
During the 1930s, poor white farmers from Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas filled most of the
slackened demand for labor in large agricultural enterprises. As the economy grew stronger with the
approach of World War II, most relocated to better-paying industrial jobs. Their exodus and the new
agricultural expansion renewed the domestic need for cheap labor. Under the authority of the “Ninth
Proviso,” the federal government immediately moved to allow employers to initiate a new recruitment
of Mexican labor.
In 1942, the United States negotiated a treaty with Mexico in the form of the Labor Importation
Program, providing for the use of Mexicans as temporary workers in U.S. agriculture. The Labor
Importation Program is more commonly referred to as the Bracero Program, a colloquial allusion to
the men of strength. Unlike previous measures, the treaty purported to regulate the employment of
Mexicans as temporary agricultural workers through qualitative and quantitative provisions.
Page 83 | Top of Article
Braceros were tied to American private employers by contracts guaranteed by the federal government.
The law qualitatively controlled transportation, wages, and working and living conditions. The treaty,
supplemented and slightly amended by subsequent legislative acts and international agreements with
Mexico, governed the emergency farm and industry program through December 31, 1947. Throughout
this period, the federal government supervised the program and actively assisted U.S. employers in the
recruitment of the Mexican workers.
From 1947 until 1951, the temporary worker program continued unabated, again pursuant to the
authority of the Ninth Proviso. During these years, the federal government abdicated its supervisory
role. Contracts were made directly between employer and worker without government guarantees and
absent qualitative and quantitative control. Taking advantage of the government's nonintervention,
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employers recruited more vigorously than before from the interior of Mexico and swiftly legalized
undocumented workers already in the United States.
The Mexican government was not as pleased with the unsupervised program. Its displeasure was
apparently outweighed, however, by the need to help alleviate domestic underemployment and to raise
income. Some observers in the United States shared Mexico's displeasure, albeit for different reasons.
A report issued by President Truman's Commission on Migratory Labor severely criticized
administrative agencies for their failure to supervise adequately the postwar program.
Despite these concerns, Public Law 78, adopted in 1951, authorized the recruitment and employment
of temporary Mexican workers by the United States. Shortly thereafter, the United States and Mexico
reached a new international agreement that purported to replace the unsupervised program maintained
since 1947 under the authority of the Ninth Proviso. Mirroring provisions of the 1942 Agreement, the
new agreement claimed to regulate and protect the interests of all concerned. Male guest-workers
would be given individual contracts supervised by the Farm Security Administration (FSA). These
contracts guaranteed minimum standards of housing (including laundry, bathing, toilets, and waste
disposal), a minimum wage of $0.30 per hour, at least 30 days of work upon arrival, free
transportation, and other essential living and labor needs. This new agreement served to implement the
Bracero Program until its termination in 1964.
While the Mexican government advocated on behalf of its citizen-workers, monitoring U.S.
compliance with these standards was difficult. Worries about migrant agricultural workers' conditions
were justified. Most workers spoke little to no English and came from poorer, rural, isolated regions of
Mexico. The Braceros had a difficult time adjusting to the climate because finding appropriate
clothing for an Oregonian spring in southern Mexico proved difficult, and growers did not supply
clothing. The FSA was both underfunded and understaffed: only two inspectors, based in Portland,
Oregon, were responsible for monitoring all the Braceros working in Utah, Idaho, Oregon,
Washington, and Montana.
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New braceros receive registration packets for temporary employment in the United States in
1943. (Howard R. Rosenberg, “Snapshots in a Farm Labor Tradition,” Labor Management
Decisions, Winter-Spring, 1993)
Alongside the legal program of recruiting Braceros was an underground market of illegal workers.
Hiring undocumented workers was a regular practice from the initial stages of the Bracero Program.
These workers were even more exploited and vulnerable than the Braceros. Farmers essentially used
undocumented workers as leverage, in order underpay braceros and work them harder and longer than
was stipulated in the legal provisions of the program. While Braceros could at least threaten to report
employers' unscrupulous practices to the authorities, undocumented workers had no such power and
instead faced the constant threat of deportation.
On balance, the program failed to achieve its professed goal of qualitatively and quantitatively
controlling Mexican immigration. In addition, ill treatment, self-centered disregard, and broken
promises characterized the program. The program's failures bespeak an even greater disdain for
Mexican workers than that suggested by the years of unregulated recruitment and employment. These
failures were the product of the negligent, reckless, and sometimes malicious disregard for a national
obligation explicitly assumed in the Bracero Program. The United States not only did not fulfill its
promise in the Bracero Program; it never even properly equipped itself to do so.
In terms of servicing American economic interests, however, the program was without historical peer.
Even with huge organizations such as the AFL-CIO
Page 85 | Top of Article
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in opposition to the migrant labor exploitation that was inherent to the Bracero Program, it was
renewed consecutively throughout the administrations of five U.S. presidents. Braceros constituted
one-quarter of the farm labor force in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, contributing not
only to the vital food production of the period but also to increasing U.S. dominance in agriculture.
Despite all the economic advantages of the Bracero Program, it did impose burdens on employers that
could be avoided by using undocumented workers. The recruitment and transportation of the Braceros
cost U.S. taxpayers approximately $450 for each of the 4.5 million workers recruited; alternatively,
the simultaneous establishment of the undocumented workers' migrant pathway saved employers
money. By hiring unauthorized workers, farmers could save the $25 bond required for each
documented worker and the $15 contracting fee imposed by the U.S. government. They could also
bypass the minimum employment period, fixed wages, and other safeguards built into the official
Bracero Program.
The suggestion that the legal program actually, though indirectly, encouraged undocumented
immigration deserves elaboration because it bears on the general theme that the United States'
acquiescence invited disrespect for law. It is entirely implausible to regard the United States' role in
undocumented entry as unintentional, naïve, or innocent. Policymakers in the United States must have
been aware that recruitment activities designed to promote the Bracero Program would encourage
poor Mexicans to believe the United States was a land of opportunity, thereby encouraging those who
could not be admitted legally to enter without inspection. The relative attractiveness of undocumented
entry was increased by the failure to enforce the promises that had been made in connection with the
adoption of the Bracero Program. U.S. policymakers relied on the tradition of migration to help win
new recruits for their “qualitatively” controlled program. Evidence indicates that policymakers knew
particular regions in Mexico were primed for news of work opportunities.
In 1954, over a million undocumented Mexicans were deported as part of an INS initiative dubbed
Operation Wetback. Southwestern employers who probably saw the operation as little more than a
temporary setback, responded by making more extensive use of workers under the Bracero Program.
Some have attributed the rise in the number of Braceros from 1954–1959 to agriculture's growing
confidence in the economic and political feasibility of the program. True only in part, this observation
overlooks the fact that during these years the enforcement of immigration law was so effective that the
Bracero Program was the only viable method to recruit workers.
While Operation Wetback temporarily relieved national hysteria, criticism of the Bracero Program
continued to mount. In particular, organized labor continued to argue that Braceros depressed wages
and working conditions. Labor's conviction was supported by government reports indicating that in
Bracero-dominated areas the prevailing wage was set by Braceros and remained stationary.
Despite the continuing assault on the Bracero Program's legitimacy, the “emergency wartime
measure” survived 22 years through 1964 and employed
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Page 86 | Top of Article
nearly five million Mexican workers. The program's longevity is largely attributable to the political
bond between employers, particularly in southwestern agriculture, and congressional leaders. This
bond, formidable throughout, was particularly so during the final decade of the embattled program;
yet, as always, employers' strategy remained flexible.
Probably contributing most to the program's ultimate termination was the sense that it was preventing
normal interplay of labor supply and demand, infringing on employment opportunities for U.S.
resident workers, and dragging down their wage levels. With each successive extension, proponents of
the Bracero Program faced greater opposition. Reduction of demand for Braceros after 1959 was
related not only to mechanization in cotton and sugar beet production but also to tightened
enforcement of program requirements.
In 1963, when it became clear that the Bracero Program would expire at the end of 1964, southwestern
employers and their congressional backers confidently pushed for the importation of Mexicans as H-2
or temporary alien workers under the provisions of the 1952 Act. However, their effort was defeated
by a narrow margin.
The defeat of the Bracero Program was notable because from that point forward, cheap labor became
exclusively undocumented.
See also Guest Workers ; Labor Movement History ; Operation Wetback ; Unions, History of .
Sources and Further Reading
Vernon M. Briggs, “The ‘Albatross’ of Immigration Reform: Temporary Worker Policy in the United
States,” International Migration Review 20, no. 4, Special Issue: Temporary Worker Programs:
Mechanisms, Conditions, Consequences (Winter 1986): 995–1019.
Kitty Calavita, Inside the State: the Bracero Program, Immigration and the I.N.S. (New York:
Routledge, 1992).
Bill Ong Hing
Source Citation (MLA 8th Edition)
Hing, Bill Ong. "Bracero Program." Anti-Immigration in the United States: A Historical
Encyclopedia, edited by Kathleen R. Arnold, vol. 1, Greenwood, 2011, pp. 82-86. Gale
Virtual Reference
9/17/2017 Gale Virtual Reference Library - Document - Bracero Program|CX2531700039&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon&authCount=1# 6/6
0427a2dc13ca238fe93a39. Accessed 18 Sept. 2017.
Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2531700039
View other articles linked to these index terms:
Page locators that refer to this article are not hyper-linked.
Bracero Program (1942) (Emergency Mexican Farm Labor Program)
1: 6 1: 21 1: 22 1: 57 1: 82-86 1: 319-20
authorization of contract labor
1: 6 1: 21 1: 84
exploitation of migrant labor
1: 85
implementation of
1: 83 1: 336
Guest workers
“contract for males” proposal
1: 83
Operation Wetback (1954)
1: 85 1: 367 1: 375-76 1: 422 2: 454 2: 728
U.S.-Mexico Border
Operation Wetback
1: 85 1: 367 1: 375-76

Secondary source-explains program


Consuming Mexican Labor: From the Bracero Program to NAFTA Matthew R. Sanderson First Published October 28, 2013 Prod...

Consuming Mexican Labor: From the Bracero Program to NAFTA
Matthew R. Sanderson First Published October 28, 2013 Product Review
Download PDFPDF download for Consuming Mexican Labor: From the Bracero Program to NAFTA Article information
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Consuming Mexican Labor: From the Bracero Program to NAFTA
Mize Ronald L. & Swords Alicia C.S. Toronto, CAN: University of Toronto Press, 2011. 294pp. $29.95 paper. ISBN: 9781442601574.
That, historically, capital accumulation has required a supply of cheap, flexible labor is one of the most well-documented and widely accepted empirical findings in social science. That, historically, capital accumulation has been predicated on a supply of cheap, flexible, and mobile labor is less commonly recognized, but perhaps only because labor migration has not received the generous attention afforded to fertility and mortality as demographic aspects of structural social change. Consuming Mexican Labor is a vigorous and refreshing attempt to bring labor migration back in to the study of contemporary social change.

Ronald Mize and Alicia Swords frame the book in terms of two arguments. First, and most importantly, North American consumption patterns structure Mexican migrant labor. North American consumers demand ever cheaper goods and services, motivating firms to employ cost-saving production strategies that ultimately require imports of migrant labor. High mass consumption among North Americans has become dependent on the existence of a continual supply of cheap, flexible, migrant labor and Mexico has become the source of this labor for the North American economy.

Second, the social relations of consumption under capitalism obscure the role of migrant labor. Migrant labor—Mexican migrant labor—is the basis of a large and significant portion of mass consumption in the United States and Canada. Yet this labor is abstracted in the process of capitalist exchange. As commodity chains become longer, production is distanced both socially and spatially from consumption, and the labor embedded in products is more easily concealed from end consumers. Thus, much North American consumption not only gives impetus to Mexican labor migration, it also sustains exploitative labor relations and conditions.

These arguments are not particularly novel and the book does not present a significant amount of original research investigating these two issues. Instead, Mize and Swords integrate secondary research with their own prior research into a largely coherent narrative portraying North American consumption as consumption, ultimately, of Mexican migrant labor. In this respect, the book is generally successful. Its primary contribution is to cogently demonstrate just how important Mexican migrant labor is for the North American economy.

This is a relatively wide-ranging book, spanning a period of approximately 70 years (from the Bracero Program era to the present, post-NAFTA era) and covering all major regions in the United States along with Mexico and Canada. The temporal and spatial range is a strength of the book because it allows the authors to demonstrate that the North American economy indeed depends, to a significant degree, on Mexican migrant labor. However, the benefits of breadth come at the expense of more thorough descriptions, analyses, and discussions of some of the more subtle nuances of Mexican migrant labor incorporation in North America. As a result, the quality of chapters is uneven and the main argument, at times, is based on relatively superficial treatments of cases. For example, Chapter Seven, “Mexican Labor in the Heartland,” covers the following topics in a mere eight pages: labor recruitment practices, racial and ethnic marginalization, social and economic restructuring in the meatpacking industry, demographic change, residential segregation, immigration policy and enforcement, migrant transnationalism, and remittances. These are certainly important facets of Mexican labor in the heartland, but the discussion can only highlight their importance. Again, the strength of this book is in its ability to integrate rather disparate forms of Mexican migrant labor incorporation into a bird’s-eye perspective that covers three countries and nearly 70 decades; it is not necessarily in the details that support the perspective.

However, the book’s international-transnational perspective is important for understanding both the causes and consequences of contemporary labor migration. Labor migration is a salient aspect of social change, and social change today is not limited by the boundaries of nation-states, if it ever was. The structures that shape social action are increasingly international, and in some cases transnational, in scale. International labor migrations are inextricably connected with these structures. As a result, sociologists of migration must expand the scope of analysis to allow comparisons of social dynamics over longer periods of time and wider spans of space. Unfortunately, these sorts of comparisons are not very prevalent. Mize and Swords’ work, however, provides some useful and important groundwork for more detailed and nuanced cross-national and comparative studies of labor migration.

View Abstract

Consuming Mexican Labor: From the Bracero Program to NAFTAConsuming Mexican Labor: From the Bracero Program to NAFTA, by MizeRonald L.SwordsAlicia C.S.Toronto, CAN: University of Toronto Press, 2011. 294pp. $29.95 paper. ISBN: 9781442601574
Author: Sanderson, Matthew R.
Journal: Contemporary sociology (Washington)
ISSN: 0094-3061
Date: 11/01/2013
Volume: 42 Issue: 6 Page: 866-867
DOI: 10.1177/0094306113506873z

Secondary source-analysis of program and path to nafta


The Bracero Program and the Nationalization of South Texas Labor Relations Author: Weber, John

The Bracero Program and the Nationalization of South Texas Labor Relations
Author: Weber, John
Book: From South Texas to the nation : the exploitation of Mexican labor in the twentieth century
Publisher: University of North Carolina Press
ISBN: 1-4696-2523-7, 978-1-4696-2523-2
Date: 10/26/2015

secondary source-explanation of Mexican labor and work/living conditions


Texas and the Bracero Program, 1942-1947

Texas and the Bracero Program, 1942-1947
Scruggs, Otey M. Pacific Historical Review; Berkeley, Calif., etc.32 (Jan 1, 1963): 251.
Full text

Secondary source-explains program


Special to The New,York Times. (1955, Aug 28). FLAWS ARE NOTED IN 'WETBACK' CURB. New York Times (1923-Current File) ...


Special to The New,York Times. "FLAWS ARE NOTED IN 'WETBACK' CURB." New York Times (1923-Current File), Aug 28, 1955.

Primary Source- Texas view of flaws of wetbacks, and analysis of bracero program (living conditions)


'Espaldas Mojadas' and the Texas Border

'Espaldas Mojadas' and the Texas Border
Eubanks, Bicknell. New Leader; New York, N.Y.37.20 (May 17, 1954): 11.


Eubanks, Bicknell. "'Espaldas Mojadas' and the Texas Border." New Leader 37, no. 20 (May 17, 1954): 11.

Primary Source-Texas view of Mexicans, immigration, and bracero program


An Analysis of Labor Agreements between the United States and Mexico: 1942-1954.

Hallock, Keith R. "An Analysis of Labor Agreements between the United States and Mexico: 1942-1954." Order No. EP65893, University of Southern California, 1954.

Secondary source-Good for reference


Anglo over bracero : a history of the Mexican worker in the United States from Roosevelt to Nixon /

Anglo over bracero : a history of the Mexican worker in the United States from Roosevelt to Nixon /

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Anglo over bracero : a history of the Mexican worker in the United States from Roosevelt to Nixon /
Bibliographic Record Display
Title:Anglo over bracero : a history of the Mexican worker in the United States from Roosevelt to Nixon / Peter N. Kirstein.
Author:Kirstein, Peter N.
Publisher:San Francisco : R and E Research Associates, 1977.
Description:v, 113 p. ; 28 cm.
Subjects:Foreign workers, Mexican--United States--History.
Migrant agricultural laborers--United States--History.
Migrant agricultural laborers--Mexico--History.
Holdings Information
Holdings Record Display
Location:Central Library (Floors 4-5: A-L 4th; P-Z 5th)
Call Number: HD8081 .M6 K52
Number of Items:1
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Secondary Source-expect to find pictures

Bracero Program Images

The USCIS History Library holds several photographs of the Mexican Agricultural Labor Program, commonly called the “Bracero Program,” dating from 1951-1964. The photographs provide an interesting firsthand glimpse at how INS inspected and admitted Braceros on Mexican border.

primary source-great photos for slides


Braceros waiting in line for processing at the Rio Vista Reception Center, El Paso, Texas.

Braceros waiting in line for processing at the Rio Vista Reception Center, El Paso, Texas.
The Bracero Program

The Bracero Program was a “wartime” emergency program designed to fill the shortage of agricultural workers in the United States during WWII. The program lasted for 22 years and about 4.5 million braceros were contracted to work in 24 states. In August of 1943, the U.S. and Mexican government agreed to let Mexican citizens work temporarily work in the agricultural fields in the United States. The State Department, the Department of Labor, and the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Services) in the Department of Justice jointly operated this program. The agreement was signed in 1942 by executive order. The program was enacted into Public Law 78 in 1958, which was an amendment to the Agricultural Act of 1949. Agricultural employers in the United States requested the number of Mexican workers needed for a specific time period and a bracero’s contract was initiated accordingly. Mexican officials were in charge of selecting Bracero candidates from regions across Mexico. The U.S. government paid the transportation to the places of employment for the braceros. Although Mexico agreed to take part, the Mexican government had concerns about the program including discrimination and exploitation against the workers. General provisions were drafted in order for the agreement to follow through and protect the workers as well. The program was supposed to last until the end of WWII but lasted more than 19 years afterwards. The program was officially terminated on December 1, 1964.

Secondary source-living conditions

Attack on Pearl Harbor Video - Pearl Harbor -

On December 7, 1941, Japan launches a surprise attack on American soil at Pearl Harbor.

[Aerial Photograph of Farm Fields]

Aerial photograph of farmed fields seen from an aircraft, with part of its frame in the foreground.