Aug 092010

The Bracero program started in 1942 as a way to alleviate the severe US labor shortage during the second world war. It gave selected Mexicans renewable six-month visas to work temporarily on US farms. Most workers came from Michoacán, Jalisco, and Guanajuato. Many US farmers became very dependent on the productive and relatively cheap Mexican labor.

Los BracerosMany Mexican workers also entered the USA without visas and easily found well-paying jobs in agriculture and other sectors. Numerous US industries began to depend on these undocumented workers. The US government and public accepted this reality; they were preoccupied fighting a war.

The Bracero Program was considered such a success that it continued long after the war ended. It was finally repealed in 1964, largely as a result of pressure from labor unions, who felt it held down farm wages, and Latino groups which felt it impeded the upward mobility of US Hispanics.

An estimated 4.5 million Mexican Bracero workers legally entered the USA between 1942 and 1964. At its height in the late 1950s, more than 500,000 workers migrated each year. Most were temporary migrants who returned to Mexico within a year. Migration to the USA became an integral part of the socio-economic fabric of many rural communities in west central Mexico. In many cases, families and villages became trans-national. Workers divided their time between work in the USA and their families in Mexico.

The Bracero program set the stage for the continued high volume of Mexican labor migration to the USA. Closure of the Bracero program had minimal impact on migration, which continued to grow steadily through the 1960’s and 1970’s before accelerating rapidly after 1980.

For more information about the Bracero program: The Bracero Archive

For previous posts about remittances, the funds sent home by migrant workers, see:

Migration between Mexico and the USA is the focus of chapter 25 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Ask your library to buy a copy of this handy reference guide to all aspects of Mexico’s geography today! Better yet, order your own copy…

  2 Responses to “The US Bracero guest worker program”

  1. What is not reported well about the illegal immigration into the USA is the long term goals of migrant workers. The American public often assumes that these illegal immigrants want to become citizens of the USA. However, some interviews and reports suggest that many eventually want to return to their family home south of the border. And the reason given is that they miss the social and cultural aspects of their communities which American cities do not provide.

  2. Alan, thanks for underlining the importance of motives and long-term goals. Twenty years or so ago, some studies certainly did suggest that most migrants intended to return home “eventually” even if their intentions were not actually realized for one reason or another. However, this was in times when it was relatively easy to cross the border. Now that the border crossing has become much more difficult, anecdotal evidence suggests that many migrants do not return home as often as they used to. In turn, this diminishes the strength of their ties to their home village, and may well mean that this generation of Mexican migrants no longer fits the “most intend to return home” idea. As further studies are published, we’ll keep our eyes open and report back when the evidence is clearer.

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