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Bracero Program Definition and Significance

During World War II, so many Americans were in the military, and there was an agricultural labor shortage in the United States. In order to solve this issue, the bracero program was established. In this article, we will discuss the Bracero program definition and its significance.

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Bracero program definition

The Bracero Program can be defined as a series of agreements that were signed between the Mexican and U.S. governments to allow temporary laborers from Mexico, called braceros, to work legally in the United States; it was also known as the Mexican Farm Labor Program. It was a series of laws and diplomatic agreements that was signed to allow Mexican citizens (braceros) into the United States to take on short-term labor contracts in farms.

Bracero program definition
Bracero program definition

The Mexican Farm Labor Program ran from 1942 to 1964 and during that time about 4-5 million bracero arrived in the United States, to work in Texas and California, either in agriculture or on the railroads. The Mexican Farm Labor Program was initiated on August 4, 1942, and ended on December 31, 1964. Under the terms of the program, braceros were entitled to a minimum wage of 30 cents an hour and were guaranteed decent living conditions, food, adequate housing, sanitation, and transportation.

The terms of the program also guaranteed protection from forced military service and racial discrimination. In addition, ten percent of the Mexican worker’s wages were to be put into a private savings account in Mexico; this portion of their wages is withheld and placed in a fund that the Mexican government controls.

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Definition and History of the Bracero Program

Definition of the bracero program

The Bracero program was a series of laws and diplomatic agreements between the Mexican and U.S. governments that was initiated on August 4, 1942; established by an executive order issued by President Franklin Roosevelt, and signed to permit Mexican citizens to take temporary agricultural work in the United States.

History of the bracero program

With the start of World War II (1939–45), the U.S. was in need of extra workers because a record number of Americans were in military service, and the workers left at home switched to the available better-paying manufacturing jobs. As a result, there were not enough workers to take on unskilled and agricultural jobs. Hence, the U.S. and Mexican governments signed the Mexican Farm Labor Program which was a series of laws and diplomatic agreements to allow braceros into the United States to take on short-term labor contracts. Therefore, the bracero program was created to address the national agricultural labor shortage.

Most 1950s and 1960s studies were of the opinion that Braceros reduced the wages of U.S. farm workers. The Mexican farm labor program created a large pool of cheap labor that held down farm wages for American farm workers. The November 1960 CBS documentary Harvest of Shame showed economic evidence 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 which were written into law in 1961 as an extension of Public Law 78. Shortly after this law was passed, the employment of braceros came down from 437,000 workers in 1959 to 186,000 workers in 1963. Farmers tried to preserve the program but lost. In 1957–1958, the Department of Labor began closing a number of bracero camps and in 1964, the bracero program saw its end.

Now, that we have the bracero program definition stated, let’s discuss the significance of the program.

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Bracero program significance

Throughout the 22-year existence of the Bracero Program, it benefited both the U.S. farmers and laborers but also gave rise to abuses of workers, numerous labor disputes, and other problems. The Mexican farm labor program was significant because it helped the U.S. solve the shortage of labor during World War II. During the war, so many Americans were in the military and farmers complained of not having enough agricultural labor to meet their needs. However, with the establishment of the bracero program, this issue was solved. Hence, the Bracero program was significant in keeping America land-producing agriculture.

The bracero program was to last only until the end of World War II, however, it continued after the war and was extended by the Migrant Labor Agreement in 1951. The Bracero Program was significant for how it helped assist during the war and how it forever advanced the productivity of American agriculture. The program is also significant for the provision of jobs to nearly 5 million braceros in 24 U.S. states in 22 years. This was the largest foreign worker program in the history of the U.S.

The program was beneficial to the braceros because it was a great opportunity for them to get temporary employment in the United States. While working in the U.S., they could afford to have money to help their families with housing, and food, and also provide education for their children. However, there were numerous reports that some braceros were underpaid, overworked, and housed in poor living conditions. Despite the promises from the U.S. government, braceros suffered discrimination and racism in the United States. Even though the terms of the agreement guaranteed fair wages, many employers ignored the guidelines and paid the braceros less.

The bracero program played a significant role in the history of U.S.-Mexican migration. It caused an increase in both legal and illegal Mexican workers coming to the United States. In fact, the increase in the illegal migration of Mexicans into the U.S. was one of the contributing factors to why the Bracero Program came to an end. The number of illegal guest workers increased in the 1950s, which prompted the Immigration and Naturalization Service to launch Operation Wetback in June 1954. This was to address the overwhelming amount of undocumented migrants in the United States.

The employers that used undocumented Mexican laborers paid them less than legally hired workers, and some further exploited them by not providing basic needs such as stable housing and access to health care. The growing influx of undocumented workers in the United States led to an outcry of many Americans complaining that the use of undocumented Mexican laborers in the labor force kept wages for U.S. agricultural workers low. This led to the end of the program.

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