The Bracero Program guaranteed Mexican immigrants to the United States decent working conditions in the agricultural sector during the Second World War. In general, this program aimed to expand short-term legal migration for Mexicans and maintain production in the U.S. agricultural industry. However, in the 1950s, this program caused discontent and increased discrimination due to the reduction in job opportunities for domestic workers. This fact led to an increase in discrimination against Mexicans. In addition, the bracero exclusion policy has resulted in an increase in illegal immigration after the reduction in opportunities for Mexicans and worsening relations between countries. However, these developments did not have a negative effect on the working conditions of domestic workers but led to an increase in illegal immigration.
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The Bracero Program was launched in the middle of World War II and regulated the labor of Mexican workers in the United States. This program included “a set of three bilateral agreements between the United States and Mexico to regulate bilateral flows of temporary low-skill labor, spanning 1942–1964” (Clemens et al., 2018, p. 3). After the end of the war, this program focused on providing the agricultural sector with temporary workers. However, the Kennedy administration beginning in March 1962, began a bracero exclusion process that made Mexican workers less attractive to farmers by raising the required wages (Clemens et al., 2018, p. 3). The program was later closed in 1964 by the Johnson administration.
The Bracero Program involved American farmers with limited resources from World War II to the acquired possibility to hire Mexican workers. Within the framework of the agreements, the minimum wage, living conditions, and return to their homeland were established for them. At the same time, many farmers refused to use the program or chose to hire illegal migrants (Clemens et al., 2018). Additionally, some farmers paid the Mexicans a much lower wage than the agreement required. During the Great Depression, the Bracero Program attracted many Mexicans to the United States who did not want to become illegal migrants. However, already in 1946, this situation was changed under the onslaught of increased flows of illegal immigrants (Clemens et al., 2018, p. 4). The government responded by expanding opportunities for temporary workers from Mexico, but these measures were not effective.
The main potential effect of this program was to reduce illegal labor immigration. However, the Bracero Program had the opposite effect rather due to insufficient control conditions. When creating this program, the Mexican government could participate in the selection of migrants and ensure control over the fulfillment of the conditions for migration. However, soon the Mexican side lost the opportunity to monitor the situation, which negatively affected the working conditions of Mexican immigrants in the United States under the program (Baxter & Nowrasteh, 2021; Del Castillo, 1951). However, the most important consequence of the program is the deterioration of domestic working conditions and the exacerbation of discrimination against Mexicans.
It was difficult to assess the program’s economic consequences, especially in the post-war economy. President Kennedy stated that “the adverse effect of the Mexican farm labor program as it has operated in recent years on the wage and employment conditions of domestic workers is clear” (Clemens et al., 2018, p. 3). The process of bracero exclusion, that is, limiting the number of Mexican immigrants, according to the Secretary of Labor, helped in creating tens of thousands of jobs for Americans (Baxter & Nowrasteh, 2021; Clemens et al., 2018). In this regard, it is important that the data on the growth of employment opportunities for domestic workers were not supported by real figures (Secretary of Labor, 1966; U.S. Senate, 1966). Additionally, it has been argued that the bracero exclusion has a positive effect on the wages of American workers due to the reduction in options for hiring low-wage Mexican labor (Secretary of Labor, 1966; U.S. Senate, 1966). However, the effect of this policy was not high and did not lead to a significant increase in conditions for domestic workers.
The main groups affected by this event are farmers, domestic workers, and Mexican workers. It is evident that the farmers abused the program more by not paying sufficient wages to Mexican immigrants and also by using illegal workers. For them, the Bracero Program has become a fairly significant help in the development of the agricultural sector. However, the bracero exclusion process was a blow to them, as it forced them to hire domestic workers or illegal immigrants at risk to operations. At the same time, technological innovations have also allowed them to significantly reduce the need for hired labor and reduce the expenses for wages.
With regard to domestic workers, the program was not unambiguous, and the effect of the exclusion did not turn out to be unconditionally positive. In the first place, the expansion of job opportunities for short-term Mexican workers has reduced options for U.S. workers. Whereas in the conditions of the Second World War, this item was preferable, as it allowed to support agricultural production, in the post-war period, it became adverse. In particular, the negative effects of this program became noticeable during the Great Depression. Short-term Mexican workers significantly reduced work opportunities for Americans, which had an undesirable effect on the economy and society.
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The consequences were most significant for Mexican immigrants, who faced discrimination from the Americans in the post-war period. It is noted that a particular increase in discrimination was observed already in the early 50s, which also attracted the attention of the government. Many businesses actively refused to cooperate with hired Mexicans and comply with government requirements (Marked Tree Chamber of Commerce, 1952). Evidence of discrimination was also visible in the agricultural sector, which was the focus of the program (Rushing, 1951). Thus, this program in the post-war period and in the conditions of the Great Depression became an occasion for social tension. Businesses were more involved in discrimination against Mexican workers due to the discontent of domestic workers. The bracero exclusion was an event that helped relieve tension but also spurred new flows of illegal immigration.
Within the post-war and Great Depression contexts, this Bracero Program has had conflicting results and significance. First of all, during the Second World War, the expansion of employment opportunities for immigrants in the agricultural sector significantly supported production. However, after its completion, domestic workers were in need of job opportunities. This situation destabilized the labor market for migrants, and bracero exclusion became the reason for the growth of illegal labor migration. While the program was aimed directly at reducing this rate, it has backfired as legal employment opportunities for immigrants have plummeted. In turn, this situation caused dissatisfaction among citizens due to the growth of illegal immigration, which resulted in discrimination. It is also important that for domestic workers, the influx of legal and illegal migrants also meant a reduction in job opportunities and discontent, as well as an economic downturn.
The most significant long-term effect of this program, as well as the exclusion policy, was the aggravation of labor relations between Mexico and the United States. In particular, Mexico has lost control over the regulation of employment opportunities for Mexican migrants in the United States. Additionally, the programs have destabilized the labor market in the U.S. and Mexico, threatening a labor shortage in the country. On the other hand, this program has become an excellent opportunity for Mexican migrants to acquire financial resources, despite the working conditions they have to face. These events did not generally affect migration patterns, leaving illegal migration at the same level, but increased discrimination against Mexican workers among Americans.
In my opinion, this program was excellent economic support during the Second World War. However, I believe that its end should have occurred immediately in the post-war period. The Great Depression was marked by a decline in economic and work opportunities for many citizens of the country, which made labor a paramount concern. The expansion of legal immigration in this situation is seen as a measure that would inevitably provoke a social reaction. Additionally, I think that the bracero exclusion policy was too abrupt, as it did not allow the Mexican workers to prepare for the new realities. The sharp decline in legal job opportunities inevitably led to a surge in illegal immigration. In general, these events did not significantly affect the U.S. economy and migration patterns but likely increased discrimination in society against Mexicans and other immigrants.
Baxter, A., & Nowrasteh, A. (2021). A brief history of U.S. immigration policy from the Colonial Period to the present day. CATO Institute. Web.
Clemens, M. A., Lewis, E. G., & Postel, H. M. (2018). Immigration restrictions as active labor market policy: Evidence from the Mexican Bracero Exclusion. American Economic Review, 108(6), 1468-1487. Web.
Del Castillo, A. C. (1951). Marked Tree (Ark.): Race discrimination. The University of Oregon. Web.
Marked Tree Chamber of Commerce. (1952). Marked Tree Chamber of Commerce to A. Cano de Castillo. The University of Oregon. Web.
Rushing, D. O. (1951). Agricultural Employment Specialist, to Angel Cano. The University of Oregon. Web.
Secretary of Labor. (1966). Year of transition: Seasonal farm labor. U.S. Department of Labor.
U.S. Senate. (1966). The migratory farm labor problem in the United States. U.S. Department of Labor. Web.