Tag: Bracero

How Trump Could Get Mexico to Pay for a Border Wall – Maybe

Republican frontrunner Donald Trump claims he is going to build a wall along the border and get Mexico to pay for it.  This has been laughed off as infeasible, perhaps even a little nutty.  Yet perhaps we should have held back our disdain a little longer.  In 1954, President Eisenhower prompted the Mexican government to deploy troops along the border to stop Mexicans from entering the United States.  While Mexico didn’t build a wall, they attempted to stem the tide of Mexicans emigrating to the United States and their government paid for it.  This might sound great to immigration restrictionists until they realize how Eisenhower did it.    

After months of failed negotiations between the two countries over the terms of the Bracero guest worker visa, the U.S. departments managing the visa issued a press release on January 15, 1954 stating that migrants who entered would be immediately awarded a labor contract and a job.  Outraged by this attempt to cut them out of the negotiations, the Mexican government deployed 5,000 soldiers along the border to threaten, detain, and deter migrants who tried to enter the United States.

Deborah Cohen sums up the resulting chaos:

When the United States actually pulled back the gate and opened the border on January 22, chaos ensued.  Hundreds of hopeful migrants rushed past the barrier, aided by the extended arms of United States Border Patrol agents, even as Mexican soldiers charged the men, trying to prevent them from crossing.  Soldiers grabbed their countrymen, often by the shirt, and yanked them back as they were pulled towards the other side by United States border guards.  [Mexican] Troops pelted men with fists, guns, water, and clubs in a vain attempt to contain this rush of bodies [emphasis added].

Mexicans who avoided their own military and made it across the border found helpful Border Patrol and INS officers who guided them to labor recruiters who gladly transported them to farms for legal work in the United States. 

Negotiations to renew the Bracero program broke down for two main reasons.  The first is that the Mexican government sought a monopoly on the export of labor.  Article 123 of the Mexican Constitution of 1917 controlled the hiring of Mexican citizens abroad.  Cloaked in nationalistic justifications, it was a scheme that created a Mexican government labor monopoly to skim off rents.  To empower Article 123, historian Ernesto Galarza describes a Mexican immigration law passed in 1932 that “authorized the confiscation of vehicles uses to transport persons to the border for the purposes of facilitating their illegal entry into the United States.”  Galarza means “illegal entry” under Mexican law, not U.S. law.  Simply put, the Mexican government wanted higher rents and the U.S. government was reluctant to grant them.          

The second reason negotiations broke down is that Eisenhower wanted the Mexican government to contribute to migration control by patrolling their side of the border.  The Bracero program had existed since 1942 as a bilateral labor agreement between the two countries but unlawful Mexican immigration persisted.  The Mexican government’s failure to control illegal Mexican emigration and never ending American demand for workers lulled them into a position of salutary neglect so that by the early 1950s almost 2 million Mexican unauthorized immigrants were working in the United States.  Eisenhower wanted that stopped and thought the Mexicans could help.  The Americans eventually solved it themselves

The negotiations broke down in 1953 and 1954, prompting the Eisenhower administration’s January 1954 announcement that any Mexican who showed up would be granted a work visa.  Mexico quickly acceded to American demands and soon Bracero workers were flowing freely back and forth across the border again - to the economic benefit of everybody involved. 

Eisenhower’s opening of the border with Mexico in January 1954 was only possible because of the Bracero guest worker visa program that tied the two government’s together.  If a future President Trump negotiated a large scale guest worker visa program that allowed many temporary Mexican guest workers in annually and legalized most of the unauthorized immigrants in the United States, he could gain the diplomatic leverage to prompt Mexico to build a wall – or at least deploy some troops in a fancy show.

A legalization and the creation of a large scale guest worker visa program would make such a wall even more irrelevant than it would currently be (unlawful immigration from Mexico has essentially stopped) but at least we’d have a more functional immigration system. 

This post was written with the help of Andy Yuan

Enforcement Didn’t End Unlawful Immigration in 1950s, More Visas Did

In last night’s Republican Presidential debate, Donald Trump argued that President Eisenhower immigration enforcement plan called Operation Wetback (Trump didn’t use that horrendous name) drastically reduced unlawful immigration in the early 1950s.  He said:

“Let me just tell you that Dwight Eisenhower. Good president. Great president. People liked him. I liked him. I Like Ike, right? The expression, ‘I like Ike.’ Moved 1.5 million illegal immigrants out of this country. Moved them just beyond the border, they came back. Moved them again beyond the border, they came back. Didn’t like it. Moved ‘em waaaay south, they never came back. Dwight Eisenhower. You don’t get nicer, you don’t get friendlier. They moved 1.5 million people out. We have no choice. We. Have. No. Choice.”

The evidence and statements by border patrol and INS officials in the 1950s and afterward disagree with Mr. Trump’s analysis.  Increased immigration enforcement did not reduced unauthorized immigration in the 1950s, legal migration did.

Background

In 1942, the United States government created Bracero guest worker visa program to allow Mexican farm workers to temporarily work for American farmers during World War II.[i]  The government entered into a bilateral labor agreement with Mexico that regulated the migrant’s wages, duration of employment, age of workers, health care, and transportation from Mexico to U.S. farms.[ii] Transportation to the farm, housing, and meals were sold by the employers for a low price.[iii]  Ten percent of the migrant’s wages were deducted from their paychecks and deposited in an account that would be turned over to them once they returned to Mexico.[iv]  

The Bracero program did not limit the number of migratory workers as long as the government’s conditions were met, making the system flexible to surges in demand. As a result, nearly five million Mexican workers used the Bracero program from its beginnings in 1942, when the first group of 500 braceros arrived at a farm in California, until the program’s cancellation in 1964.[v]  The program’s flexibility increased over time as the Border Patrol and INS realized that the Bracero program was an indispensable component of reducing unlawful immigration by providing a lawful means of migration. During the early phase of the program, the United States government acted as the arbiter and distributor of the Mexican workers to American farms – heavily subsidizing the movement and not requiring total reimbursement for government expenses on medical and security screenings.[vi]  Later, as the number of unauthorized immigrants began to rise, the government reformed the program to allow for workers and employers to deal more directly with fewer regulations and government subsidies.[vii] 

Guest Worker Visas Can Halt Illegal Immigration

There is a trade off between the number of lower skilled guest worker visas and the number of unauthorized immigrants.  More lower skilled guest workers means fewer unauthorized immigrants.  Fewer guest workers mean more unauthorized immigrants.  We just have to look back to the Bracero program to see this relationship.   

The number of removals and returns is an approximation of the stock of the unauthorized immigrant population and flows.  Many, but not all, of those removed or returned during this time period were funneled into guest worker visas.  Beginning with the adoption of the Bracero program and the H2 visa in the early 1950s, there was a flurry of removals and returns whereby many migrants were funneled into the guest worker visa programs.  After that, my thesis is that the large numbers of work visas decreased the number of apprehensions by shrinking the pool of unauthorized immigrants and channeling future ones into the legal system.  After Bracero was ended in the mid-1960s, the number of removals and returns began a steady increase along with an increase in the stock and flow of unauthorized immigrants deprived of their previous lawful means of entry and work.

Ending the lower skilled guest worker visa programs preceded the modern increase in unauthorized immigration. 

Source: Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Naturalization Service annual reports.

The more low skilled guest workers there are, the fewer unauthorized immigrants there are to deport. 

One legal worker on a visa seems to be worth more than one unauthorized immigrant worker – meaning a pretty favorable trade off in numbers for those concerned about the numbers of immigrants.  In 1954, 1 guest worker visa replaced 3.4 unauthorized immigrants, meaning that one legal worker seemed to be equal to more than three illegal workers.  If an important goal of a lower skilled guest worker visa is to eliminate the American economic demand for unauthorized immigrants, relatively few guest worker visas can replace a much larger unauthorized immigrant population.

Increases in Border Patrol and border enforcement are also unnecessary to get this result.  By allowing unauthorized immigrants to get the work visas, by not punishing them or employers for coming forward, and by making work visas available to those who want to enter, almost all future and current unauthorized immigrants can be funneled into the legal market without a large increase in enforcement.  This was the policy followed in the 1950s and it appears to have worked:   

Sources: Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Naturalization Service annual reports.

This chart zooms in on the 1942 through 1965 time period when the Bracero guest worker visa was in effect:

Sources: Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Naturalization Service annual reports.

This is not to say that Bracero was a perfect program and that it should be replicated today.  There were a lot of problems with it, namely that migrants were constrained in changing employers, migrants were limited to working only in agriculture, and the work visa was annual – all issues that should be fixed in any new lower skilled guest worker visa adopted.  A lower skilled guest worker visa is indispensable to vastly reduce or even halt unauthorized immigration.