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Background Information about the Bracero Program

A brief overview of the Bracero program that allowed Mexican agricultural workers to enter the U.S. legally to work as farm laborers.

Years of Bracero program: 1942- 1964

Numbers of workers involved in the Bracero program:between 4.5 and 5 million

Number of workers during the peak year of the Bracero program (1956): 445,197

The US government negotiated, initially through an exchange of notes at the American Embassy in Mexico, a provision allowing an unspecified number of Mexican agricultural workers who were guaranteed transportation, living expenses, lodging, medical care and repatriation as well as wages “the same as those paid for similar work to other agricultural laborers under the same conditions within the same area.” Contracts would be made between workers and employers under the supervision of the Mexican government. The workers were required to contribute 10% of their earnings to a “Rural Savings Fund,” which would be transferred to the Mexican Agricultural Credit Bank. 

The program was spread over the U.S. but mainly took place in California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Oregon.

The Bracero program was a source of controversy throughout its existence. American agriculture employers welcomed the surplus of cheap labor, while domestic workers and anti-immigrant forces railed against the entry of foreign workers. Anti-immigrant groups in the U.S. sometimes point to the Bracero program as leading to a wave of mass undocumented immigration. The migrant labor movement, including Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers, opposed the program because of its exploitation of workers. Mexican agri-businesses and agricultural unions were also opposed the program, on the grounds that it not only drained the Mexican economy of agricultural workers but allowed the U.S. to develop a surplus of crops such as cotton, which then hurt the price of Mexican cotton on the market.

Source | Adapted from Richard B. Craig, The Bracero Program, (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1971; Marcelo M. Suarez-Orozco, ed., Crossings: Mexican Immigration in Interdisciplinary Perspectives, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998); and Carlos Martenes, "The Mexican Braceros," The Farmworkers Website,, http://www.farmworkers.org/benglish.html.
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | Copyright American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning  This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Item Type | Article/Essay
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “Background Information about the Bracero Program,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed November 23, 2017, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/532.

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