Impacts of Migrant Worker Programs – Final Post

For the final stage of my project, I decided to move past poetry analysis and instead focused on researching the recorded effects of the Bracero program on the temporary workers, their children, and society at large. There were a few resources I found quite invaluable, the most notable of those being the Bracero Archive. The Bracero Archive is the largest compilation of materials about the 1942 guest-worker initiative and has everything from interviews with workers, posts from the workers’ children, and newspaper articles that discuss the recent legislation in regards to guest-worker compensation. Fortunately, I found this research to be much more compelling than the poetry I had been focusing on.

I found the most intriguing aspect of the Bracero Archive to be the discussion board, where anyone seeking information about the program or looking to share their experiences could post. Children of workers often wrote about their parents’ involvement with the Bracero program. Many described about the struggles their fathers faced when attempting to receive compensation for the work, and a few wrote about the legal issues that were raised with their technical “residency” status. One of the most disturbing accounts was of a bracero worker with no evidence of his participation in the program. Apparently he had been approached by an immigration agent who “kindly asked if he could have [the bracero identification card] for his personal collection purposes, so my dad gave him his card… the agent convinced him by saying he would never need it since the program was over … now my dad has no other way to prove his background as bracero”. Although the anonymity of this post somewhat throws into question its legitimacy, its theme of exploitation is reflected in many other accounts. For instance, portions of Bracero’s earnings were withheld from their pay to be put into savings accounts that they would gain access to once they returned home. However, due to mismanagement and potential corruption in both the Mexican and American government, these funds disappeared and workers have yet to receive proper compensation despite numerous lawsuits.

The Bracero program’s impact on illegal immigration was yet another interesting topic in my research. There’s no complete consensus, as some historians argue that the availability of legal employment options led to a decrease in the amount of illegal immigrants. However, others contend that the flow of people from Mexico made it easy for illegal workers to come into the United States as well. Even when undocumented workers were discovered, the government made the questionable decision of bringing them back to “Mexico-US. border, issued documentation, and returned to the farm on which they were found” (History News Network). By 1950s, illegal immigration had reached such levels that the American government initiated Operation Wetback, a movement to reduce the numbers of undocumented workers and their families. The problem was that agents often arrested citizens who were simply “Mexican-looking”, and they would also deport the children of Bracero workers who had been born in the US, despite the fact they were by law citizens.

In conclusion, my research on the Bracero program ended up supporting the hypothesis that I had from the beginning – the workers provided a source of cheap labor for a desperate American economy, but at the cost of their own exploitation and psychological torment. From being sprayed with toxic chemicals to being cheated out of their salary, the workers suffered from a dehumanizing experience that continued to resonate with their children, as evidenced by the poetry of Tino Villanueva. Seeing as the guest-worker program didn’t even lead to a definitive decrease in illegal immigration, I see no reason to recommend that this type of initiative is ever implemented in the future.

Martin, Philip. “The Bracero Program: Was It a Failure?” History News Network. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Sept. 2013. <http://hnn.us/article/27336>.