Academic journal article Texas Law Review

Prospects for a Bilateral Immigration Agreement with Mexico: Lessons from the Bracero Program

Academic journal article Texas Law Review

Prospects for a Bilateral Immigration Agreement with Mexico: Lessons from the Bracero Program

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

When the United States, Mexico, and Canada began negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), immigration, as well as labor and environmental, concerns arose among the discussions of free trade.1 While the countries came to sign NAFTA-related side agreements on labor rights and the environment, Mexico and the United States chose to avoid the controversial immigration issue out of fear that it would derail the whole project.2 However, there were promises that negotiations for a bilateral immigration agreement would continue after the passage of NAFTA.3 Over five years later, no such agreement has been reached despite the increasing economic integration of the two countries.

Last year Mexican Labor Minister Jose Antonio Gonzalez Fernandez expressed his government's intention to ask the United States to join Mexico in examining the possibility of a worker exchange program when the NAFTA labor side-accord comes up for review in the future.4 Such a bilateral effort, the Bracero Program, was executed in the 1940s and 1950s.5 Under this program Mexican agricultural workers were legally permitted to temporarily enter the United States to work. The Bracero Program remains the only example of a bilateral immigration program between the United States and Mexico.6 Since then, the U.S. government has made little effort even to discuss a new bilateral program for Mexican immigration to the United States.7

This Note will examine the bilateral nature of the Bracero Program, and the various factors that made the program possible from 1942 until 1964. That is, what brought about the air of cooperation, what drove it away, and what was accomplished in the interim. Ultimately, this examination will demonstrate that the economic and political conditions that exist today are similar to those that existed when the Bracero Program was established, providing hope that a new bilateral labor agreement between Mexico and the United States may be forthcoming.

A bilateral immigration program could provide significant advantages over unilateral immigration policy. First, the two countries could more effectively achieve their migration goals through a cooperative effort since the policies of either nation can influence migration patterns.8 Additionally, cooperation and compromise in the area of immigration can improve overall relations between Mexico and the United States so that cooperation will continue in other fields, such as trade.9 However, differences in the sociopolitical atmosphere of the two countries and weaknesses in the Bracero Program itself indicate that a new agreement would not and should not follow the Bracero model. Nonetheless, the failures in cooperation and the weaknesses of the earlier program can provide some of the best insight on how any future bilateral immigration program should be structured.

II. Background Information

With the attack on Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into World War II, the fear of impending labor shortages in the agricultural sector of the economy resulted in a new, more positive official attitude toward Mexican contract labor.10 Informal negotiations with Mexico culminated in the signing of a bilateral agreement on August 4, 1942, creating the Bracero Program.11 As President Truman's Commission on Migratory Labor put it: "The negotiation... [was] a collective bargaining situation in which the Mexican Government [was] the representative of the workers and the Department of State [was] the representative of our farm employers."12

Over the next two decades, the U. S. government transported five million "braceros"13 from Mexico, providing growers and ranchers in twenty-four states with an "endless army" of cheap labor.14 Initially, the (now defunct) Farm Security Administration, which was part of the Department of Agriculture, conducted recruitment and contracting.15 However, control slipped into the hands of the individual growers from 1948 until 1951. …

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