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Bracero, the program developed through a series of agreements by the governments of Mexico and the United States (1942–1964) to import temporary Mexican farm workers into the United States. The term bracero comes from the Spanish word brazo (arm). A bracero, thus, was also the worker who participated in the bracero program.

The United States experienced a shortage of labor during World War II that led to the formal agreement with Mexico in 1942 for temporary admittance into the United States of mainly agricultural workers. By the terms of the initial accord, the U.S. Department of Agriculture administered the program, recruiting workers, placing them with private employers, and guaranteeing acceptable wages and working conditions. The Mexican government established regional recruiting centers where individuals applied for contracts to work in the United States. Once chosen, workers were transported to a U.S. reception center to sign government-standardized work contracts with employers. The contracts provided wage rates equivalent to those of U.S. workers for comparable work, adequate housing at no cost, low-priced meals, a guarantee of work for 75 percent of the contract term, insurance, and return transportation to Mexico at the end of the contract. Some 300,000 braceros participated in the program during World War II, and by the end of the program in 1964 more than 4 million Mexican nationals had worked in the United States under the program.

This labor agreement was at times a source of conflict. When renegotiating the agreement in 1953, Mexico took a firm position for control of bracero wage rates. The United States responded to the impasse in negotiations with an "open border policy," that is, not impeding the flow of illegal immigrants to the United States. When thousands of workers flocked to the northern border, Mexican officials, and even the army, attempted to prevent them from crossing into the United States. This border incident of 1954 came to a head when the braceros marched in protest and the Mexican government ended its attempt to prevent immigration. A new accord was reached in March 1954, and in June U.S. authorities initiated Operation Wetback to deport Mexican workers who were illegally in the United States in order to discourage further illegal entry and to force U.S. employers to hire contract labor under the bracero program.

Despite the problems, the program had benefited both countries. The United States obtained low-cost labor for work where it was difficult to attract Americans. Mexico was able temporarily to export surplus labor, and the remittances of the braceros were a significant source of foreign exchange and income to the impoverished sending communities. Since termination of the bracero program, the labor flows have continued through migration of undocumented workers. Uncontrolled labor migration from Mexico to the United States remains a major issue between the two countries. Labor migration increased rapidly beginning in the 1980s. During his presidency George W. Bush proposed a new guest worker program for undocumented workers, but this proposal was highly contentious and legislation implementing it as of 2007 had not been passed by Congress.

See alsoUnited States-Mexico Border .


Ernesto Galarza, Merchants of Labor: The Mexican Bracero Story (1964).

Richard B. Craig, The Bracero Program (1971).

Peter Kirstein, Anglo over Bracero: A History of the Mexican Worker in the United States from Roosevelt to Nixon (1977).

Manuel García y Griega, The Importation of Mexican Contract Laborers to the United States, 1942–1964: Antecedents, Operation, and Legacy (1981).

Kitty Calavita, Inside the State: The Bracero Program, Immigration, and the I.N.S. (1992).

Additional Bibliography

Alanís Enciso, Fernando Saúl. El primer programa bracero y el gobierno de México, 1917–1918. San Luís Potosí: Colegio de San Luís, 1999.

Alanís Enciso, Fernando Saúl, ed. La emigración de San Luís Potosí a Estados Unidos, pasado y presente. Monterrey: Senado de la República, Colegio de San Luís, 2001.

Driscoll, Barbara A. The Tracks North: The Railroad Bracero Program of World War II. Austin: CMAS Books, Center for American Studies, University of Texas at Austin, 1999.

Gamboa, Erasmo. Mexican Labor and World War II: Braceros in the Pacific Northwest, 1942–1947. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999.

Gonzalez, Gilbert G. Labor and Community: Mexican Citrus Worker Villages in a Southern California County, 1900–1950. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

                               Paul Ganster