Friday, November 21, 2014

"Americans All"? The Bracero Program and the roots of illegal immigration

Ronald Reagan once said, "Facts are stubborn things."

It is way too easy to bloviate about immigration in this country and ignore the facts of our history.

Fact: Latino immigration into this country to do primarily agricultural work in the 20th Century required both a "push" (economic conditions in Mexico and points south) and a "pull" (aggressive advertising from employers in the US).

Witness;  the Bracero program, that from 1942-1964 legally allowed 4.5 million Mexican workers to come to the US to labor under conditions that most historians agree were little more than legalized slavery.  The Bracero program began due to labor shortages during World War II, and was promoted with wonderful, patriotic posters like this:
Wow.  "Americans All"? That included Mexicans?
Some states refused to participate initially--like Texas, which preferred an "open borders" policy to allow pretty much anybody in to work at any time without papers.  Why?  Because Texas employers didn't like the requirements of the Federal program that you had to pay certain levels of wages, offer housing, and basic public health medical care, etc.  Texas liked the "Free Market" approach.

But other employers, as you can see by the advertisement below, were more than happy to get as many Mexican workers as possible:
In fact, there were major advertising blitzes throughout the wartime and immediate postwar period:
Curiously, large agricultural concerns in the US had absolutely no interest, right after the war, in stopping the program, and it continued in various forms until 1964.  It was not an entirely happy chapter in labor relations, as there were horrible exploitations of the Mexican workers as well as awful accidents that killed thousands:
But the primary reason that American employers chose to push for an end to the program is that it cost too much, and illegal immigrants were cheaper:
These new illegal workers could not be employed "above the table" as part of the program, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation. This resulted in the lowering of wages and not receiving the benefits that the Mexican government had negotiated to insure their legal workers' well-being under the bracero program. This, in turn, had the effect of eroding the U.S. agricultural sector's support for the program's legal importation of workers from Mexico in favor of hiring illegal immigrants to reduce overhead costs. The advantages of hiring illegal workers included such workers' willingness to work for lower wages, without support, health coverage or in many cases legal means to address abuses by the employers for fear of deportation.
The grim reality from the 1960s forward is that American agricultural interests (including many of our favorites--like Monsanto, Archer-Daniels-Midland, and other mega agribusinesses) used their clout to shut down programs that provided for legal immigration with statutory protections for migrant workers because the Bracero program forced them to pay the true costs of their labor.

What they preferred to do was privatize their profits while socializing the costs by importing cheap immigrant labor at cut rates, often paying below starvation wages, and tacitly encouraging these immigrants to apply (illegally) for government assistance.  Thus they kept the above-board costs of their products low, and passed on the costs to American citizens in the form of higher taxes to cover the food stamps, medical benefits, etc. etc. that the newer generations of illegals were accessing.

So it may be true that, in a legal sense, Mr. Obama yesterday proposed "tearing up the Constitution," in the use of Executive Orders to delay deportation of up to 5 million undocumented aliens.  After all, if the Washington Post says so, it must be true, right?

But facts, again, are stubborn things:  illegal immigration exists in this country NOT primarily because wetback parasites want to access our welfare state, but because American businesses large and small want the cheapest possible labor and are willing to spend the big bucks in campaign contributions to keep it--even if it requires them to tear down perfectly legal solutions.

So they bought a President.  Wouldn't be the first one.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not an originalist; the red lines and amendments to the Constitution all point to a document and system that needs to evolve with time. My main issue with your post is that you are trying to paint Obama's decision as being bought by the corporate interests. Could you expound more on that?