Monday, August 22, 2011

The Bracero Program

For History 210 with Dennis Judd

The subject of Mexican immigration to the United States, particularly the illegal variety, is as topical a matter as there can be at this juncture in our nation's history. Regardless of where one's personal political views rest on the political spectrum one very ironic aspect of it is virtually unknown to 99% or more those those who deign to even ponder upon and discuss this controversial issue.

The basic fact of the matter is that the United States Government initially working on behalf of the people of the United States in the context of the war effort during World War Two but subsequently to that working corruptly on behalf of agribusiness interests at taxpayer's expense actually created the flow both legal but more significantly, illegal, of Mexican migrants to the United States of America.

The Bracero (translated meaning "strong arm" and holding similar meaning and equivalency to the expression "coolie" of an earlier period in U.S. and more particularly, California history) Program as it became known started informally and unofficially during World War One as a means of replacing agricultural laborers lost to the war effort. During the Mexican Civil War of that period it was easy for the Mexican Government to acquire indigent men (refugees) and send them north.

During the 1930's in the context of the Great Depression and its pervasive unemployment over half a million Mexicans were deported back to Mexico. During that period what agricultural jobs existed were filled by poor white Americans, especially refugees of the Dust Bowl.

Upon the occurrence of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the resulting entry of the United States into World War Two a wartime employment boom ensued in California. This boom was filled by mostly white Americans, many of them former Midwest agriculturalist refugees of the Dust Bowl, and the many Japanese-American agriculturalists in California were by now interned and thus a dangerous farm labor shortage ensued . The resulting labor environment led to the Bracero Program being formally and officially reinstated following a summit between the U.S. and Mexican Presidents wherein Mexico was encouraged to side with the Allies and wherein the details of the Bracero Program were hammered out. The agreement called for Mexico to provide workers for the United States while the U.S. promised to provide transportation, housing, health care, unemployment insurance and a minimum wage. The program immediately went into effect and succeeded in filling the labor vacuum for the duration of the war.

By 1946 the Braceros should have been back home to stay in Mexico. American citizens, including the interned Japanese-American farmers should have returned to the fields and earned an honorable wage. Unfortunately, this is not what happened as U.S. agribusiness interests making full use of their corrupting influence in the Federal Government found a means to maintain the Bracero Program long after it rightly ought to have ended. In fact, through a series of political machinations from rewriting the program to weaken protections for workers to repeatedly re-extending it very two years when it came up for renewal as required by law up to and throughout the duration of the Korean Conflict  which was lamely used to justify those extensions and revisions as enacted by the Truman Administration. In fact, the Bracero Program was perpetuated until its final extension into the period 1963-1964 with some lingering contractual obligations extending until 1967 which placed it squarely within yet another major military conflict, ergo the Vietnam Conflict.

Agribusiness frequently used the Braceros, as they were known, to break strikes and break unions. Regardless of the specific context in which they were used the Braceros' handlers systematically exploited them failing to comply with all the elements of the agreed upon provisions for the Braceros per the original contract between the U.S. and Mexico.

It is worth noting that the Bracero Program after World War Two not only victimized the Braceros themselves as well as the aforementioned unions and any attempted strikes but it victimized the entire agricultural labor force by artificially suppressing wages and benefits.

To make matters worse the terms of the Bracero Program called for the United States Government to pay one-half of the Bracero's wages directly to them while they were working in the U.S. and then in order to encourage them to return to Mexico when their work was completed the U.S. Government transferred the remaining one-half of their wages to the Mexican Government to disburse to the Braceros upon their return to Mexico. Quite predictably, that disbursement often did not happen.

Whereas the Braceros were a legal immigration labor force their mere existence encouraged much illegal immigration by virtue of news spreading south of profitable work up north and former Braceros realizing they could simply show up for work at their former places of Bracero employment and cut out the U.S. and Mexican Governments as middle man and negotiate their own contract.

Karma is a bitch or as the Bible says "you have sown the wind and you will reap the whirlwind". We Americans as a nation didn't do the right thing in 1946 and end the Bracero Program  when the justification for its continued existence had concluded. This tragic choice was made for the sake of naked greed and political expediency. The concept unintended consequences has manifested itself mightily in this matter as the United States is increasingly awash in attitudinal Mexican immigrants, both legal and illegal. In the long haul it is difficult to quantify the cost-benefit ratio to our civilization from this trend of economic refugees and excess population coming from Mexico into the United States. Furthermore, as Mexico continues its current decent into "failed state" status due to the Narco Wars the U.S. can expect more waves of "refugees" from Mexico.

What is undeniable is that the United States during a period of white dominance unintentionally opened the door to a future period of brown dominance in American history that will have profound implications and consequences for all Americans, black and white and brown and yellow and red and olive.

Some of these consequences will be good and some will be neither good nor bad. What is less certain is if their will be bad consequences, to wit, will the ongoing and future Narco Wars follow the brown immigrants into the United States and will this brown migration from Mexico become elevated to "First World" status or will America become more "Third World-ized".


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