Former Braceros Demand Payments Owed Them

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February 4, 2011
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A group of elderly men, their relatives, and supporters protested outside the Mexican consulate in Los Angeles on February 3 to demand payment of wages held from the men when they were guest workers in the U.S. government's bracero program between 1942-1964.

Under the Bracero Treaty negotiated between the United States and Mexico, 10% of workers' gross wages would be deducted and put into a "savings" fund that they could claim upon their return to Mexico.

Many of the braceros were not told why this money was deducted from their paychecks or how to claim the money in Mexico. 

Decades after the bracero program ended, a Mexican government commission revealed that most of the braceros had never been paid the 10% "savings" that had been taken from their wages years earlier.

In 2002, a group of former braceros filed a federal class action lawsuit seeking payment of the funds due to them.

In 2008, the Mexican government agreed to a one-time payment of $3,500 to each bracero who could prove participation in the program. But many of the former laborers still have not been paid.

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The bracero program was part of a long history of importing Mexican laborers into the United States. During World War I, the U.S. government helped fill a labor shortage by facilitating the importation of Mexican workers for back-breaking work on farms and ranches, many in California.

After the war, the Associated Farmers, a conservative trade organization of commercial growers, contintued to recruit Mexican laborers, assuming that since they were barred from joining the all-white AFL unions, they would be a tractable labor force.

But with the onset of the Great Depression, the federal government led a massive effort to scapegoat and deport Mexicans, with no distinction made for their legal status. The government forced more than 1 million people--an estimated 60 percent of them U.S. citizens--over the border.

The tide shifted, however, when America entered World War II and faced an acute labor shortage. In 1942, the U.S. government began negotiations with Mexico to bring workers from the impoverished Mexican countryside to work in U.S. agriculture and railroads.

The subsequent bracero program lasted until 1964.