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When did the Bracero Program start and end?

When did the Bracero Program start and end? During World War II, the U.S. sought labor from millions of Mexicans, and as a result signed the Mexican Farm Labor Program with the Mexican government. The Bracero program was a series of laws and diplomatic agreements that permitted millions of Mexican men to work legally in the United States on short-term labor contracts. In this article, we will discuss when the bracero program started and when it ended.

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When did the Bracero Program start and end?

The Bracero program was initiated on August 4, 1942, and ended on December 31, 1964. This was a series of laws and diplomatic agreements to recruit Mexican workers, all men (without their families), during World War II to work on short-term contracts on farms and in other war industries. After the war, the bracero program continued until it ended in 1964.

The reason why the bracero program was created was to fill the labor shortage in agriculture due to the war. The Bracero program was extended with the Migrant Labor Agreement of 1951 (Pubic Law 78), which was enacted by the United States Congress as an amendment to the Agricultural Act of 1949.

When did the Bracero Program start and end?
When did the Bracero Program start and end?

When it started

When did the Bracero Program start? During World War II (1939–45), a record number of Americans entered military service, and the workers that were left at home switched to the available manufacturing jobs that were paying better. Hence, the U.S. was in need of extra workers because there were not enough workers to take on agricultural and other unskilled jobs. In order to meet this need, the U.S. and Mexican governments came to an agreement and created the Bracero Program on August 4, 1942, which began in Stockton, California.

The Mexican government signed the Bracero program (Mexican Farm Labor Program) with the U.S. government because it wanted the braceros to learn new agricultural skills that they could bring back to Mexico to enhance crop production in the country and also expected the braceros to bring the money they earned back to Mexico, to help stimulate the economy. The program also offered the U.S. government a chance to make up for some of the previous depression-era deportations and repatriations in the 1930s that unjustly affected Mexican Americans who were U.S. citizens.

The Program operated as a joint program under the Department of Labor, the State Department, and the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) in the Department of Justice. The Mexican laborers (braceros) were promised decent living conditions in labor camps, such as food, adequate shelter, sanitation, and a minimum wage pay of 30 cents an hour.

The agreement also guaranteed that braceros would not be subject to discrimination. However, some braceros still suffered maltreatment and discrimination. Due to the discrimination and maltreatment of braceros, the program was banned for several years in Texas during the mid-1940s. On several occasions, Texas Governor Coke Stevenson pleaded to the Mexican government that the ban is lifted but it was to no avail.

Generally, the bracero program lasted 22 years and offered employment contracts to 4-5 million braceros in 24 U.S. states which was the largest foreign worker program in the history of the U.S. Only a relatively small number of braceros were admitted from 1942 to 1947. The first-ever braceros were admitted on September 27, 1942, for the sugar-beet harvest season, and from 1948 to 1964, an average of 200,000 braceros were allowed by the U.S. government per year.

Consequently, several years of the bracero program led to an increase in undocumented immigration and a growing preference for operating outside of the guidelines set by the program. Hence, the bracero program persisted until 1964, when labor and civil rights reformers successfully pressured its termination.

When it ended

When did the bracero program start and end? After the establishment of the bracero program in 1942, the program ended on December 31, 1964. In 1948, during negotiations over a new bracero program, Mexico requested the United States to impose sanctions on American employers of undocumented workers.

However, in July 1951, President Truman signed Public Law 78 which did not include employer sanctions. Soon after this public law was signed, the United States negotiators met with Mexican officials to prepare a new bilateral agreement.

This new bilateral agreement was made so that the U.S. government was the guarantor of the contract, not U.S. employers. Hence, the braceros could not be used as replacement workers for U.S. workers on strike. The agreement required that all negotiations would be between the two governments and so the braceros were not allowed to renegotiate wages or go on strike.

A year later, during the 82nd United States Congress, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 was passed. On June 25, 1952, President Truman vetoed the U.S. House immigration and nationality legislation. The H.R. 5678 bill conceded a federal felony for knowingly harboring, concealing, or shielding an illegal immigrant or foreign national. The Texas Proviso, however, stated that employing unauthorized workers would not constitute ‘harboring or concealing’ them. This also resulted in the establishment of the H-2A visa program, which enabled laborers to enter the U.S. for temporary work.

There were several hearings about the United States-Mexico migration, which overheard complaints about Public Law 78 and how it did not satisfactorily provide them with a reliable supply of workers. At the same time, unions complained that the presence of braceros was harmful to U.S. workers.

The meeting resulted in the U.S. ultimately getting to decide how braceros would enter the country which was by way of reception centers set up in various Mexican states and at the United States border. Hence, braceros had to pass a series of examinations at these reception centers.

When did the Bracero Program start and end?
A photo from 1956 showing hundreds of braceros gathered at a reception center in Monterrey, Mexico
Source: Youtube

In June 1954, the Immigration and Naturalization Service launched Operation Wetback in order to address the overwhelming amount of undocumented migrants in the United States. This was a way to send illegal braceros back to Mexico. The illegal workers who came over to the states at the initial start of the program as well as those that felt the need to extend their stay in the U.S. after their labor contracts were terminated were affected by this operation. In the first year, over a million Mexicans were sent back to Mexico and when the operation was finished, 3.8 million Mexicans were repatriated.

The termination of the bracero program

Furthermore, in the 1950s, the criticisms of churches and unions got to the U.S. Department of Labor. There were lamentations that the braceros were negatively affecting the U.S. farm workers. The Department of Labor in 1957–1958 eventually acted upon these criticisms and began closing a number of bracero camps. Also, they imposed new minimum wage standards.

In 1959, the department of labor demanded that American workers that were recruited through the Employment Service should be given the same wages and benefits as the braceros. The U.S. Department of Labor continued its best to get more pro-worker regulations passed, but the only one that was written into law was the one that guaranteed U.S. workers the same benefits as the braceros. This law was signed by President Kennedy as an extension of Public Law 78 in 1961. Shortly after this, bracero employment dropped from 437,000 workers in 1959 to 186,000 workers in 1963.

During a 1963 debate over an extension of the bracero program, the House of Representatives rejected an extension of the program. Nonetheless, the Senate approved an extension of the program that required U.S. workers to be entitled to the same non-wage benefits as braceros. The House then responded with a final one-year extension of the bracero program but without the non-wage benefits and the program saw its end in 1964. Hence, the Bracero Program ended on December 31, 1964.

See also: Effects of the industrial revolution