What are some differences between the Bracero Program and current U.S. immigration policy?



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    The Bracero Program was a guest worker program which allowed certain numbers of unskilled workers to immigrate temporarily and legally from Mexico to the United States to work, mainly in agricultural jobs and in the railroad sector. The program was initiated in 1942 when the United States, then embroiled in World War II, faced a serious labor shortage due to the numbers of men who were being drafted for the war, and it lasted until 1964, although importation of Braceros (“strong arms”) for railroad jobs ceased with the end of the war in 1945. The difference between the Braceo Program and current policy is essentially the difference between current policy and immigration reform proposed by then-President George W. Bush in his second term. Today we do not have a guest worker program which allows certain numbers of unskilled laborers to immigrate from Mexico for jobs, and then provide a path to US citizenship for those workers. Our current policy is sort of a “one size fits all” approach with quotas on immigration and a lottery system for applicants to fill those quotas. Yet, despite the laws regarding legal immigration, the demand for unskilled workers particularly in agriculture industries is high, mainly because an illegal immigrant doesn’t need to be paid minimum wage or given health care benefits. Thus, illegal workers have much lower overhead than legal ones. A guest worker program such as the Bracero Program might address some of these concerns, but there would still be the basic issue of why the program was rescinded in the first place: once you establish a a certain minimum guarantee of income, benefits and/or legal protections for admitted guest workers, the overhead on the jobs they will fill suddenly goes up. Illegal immigration will still continue, as it did during the time the Bracero Program was in place, making a guest worker program ineffective in solving the problem it’s meant to address. This is likely to become a significant political issue in years to come as demand grows for immigration reform.

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