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Immigration and labor notes

August 9, 2007 |  6:54 am

1957_0809_bracero

1957_bracerosAug. 9, 1957
Los Angeles

The Times ran a series of brief stories in 1957 on the braceros, workers brought from Mexico to the U.S.

In January, it noted that 460,000 to 470,000 braceros would be working in the U.S. in 1957, up from 432,618 in 1956.

Later that month, The Times said that in 1956, a record of 161,603 laborers were processed in the U.S. Foreign Labor Reception Center in the Imperial Valley. The center picked up the braceros in Mexico and allocated them to farms in  California, Oregon, Washington,  Arizona, Utah,  Nevada and Idaho. The previous record, set in 1955, was 119,659.

In fact, the U.S. was importing so much labor that Mexico began a public works program and an irrigation project to keep at least some of the men home, The Times said.

Of course there were problems, The Times noted. Atty. Gen. Pat Brown (the future governor) was fighting with the federal government to allow the braceros to bring their families, noting that the camps of single men were prone to prostitution and drugs. The U.S., however, said the families would add too much demand for housing, hospitalization and relief (i.e. welfare).

1957_bracero_recipes And there were other complications. The Imperial Valley farmers disliked the Labor Department's bureaucracy in handling the braceros and wanted the program transferred to the Department of Agriculture, which supervised it until World War II. One reason: The Labor Department had too much paperwork and moved slowly, threatening crops that had to be processed quickly. And, the farmers said, the Labor Department was too "industry minded."

Still, the braceros were working their way into American culture. In fact, The Times ran a page of "bracero recipes" made popular in the camps of Fullerton and urged Orange County housewives to try some of the spicy bracero dishes. (Yes, one calls for "Jap chiles.")

The Times said:

"The men in the Fullerton housing unit ... are mainly fed their native diet because they cannot be expected to adjust to American foods and customs during their short-term contracts in this country. American foods are added, however, to improve the nutritional balance of each meal."

A year-end report noted that the number of braceros processed in El Centro declined slightly in 1957 to 159,000. U.S. officials said a crackdown on illegal immigration had spurred an increase in the bracero program, but that it had leveled off in 1957.

I do not intend to delve further into the topic of immigration and foreign labor (in fact, searching The Times for "braceros" reveals far too many stories about Gov. Ronald Reagan, Cesar Chavez and the UFW, with well-known bylines, for yours truly to go wading).

But I have to note that although The Times reports the nuts and bolts of the braceros, it deals only slightly with the need for the program:

"The braceros are brought into this country as temporary farm workers to fill labor needs that cannot be met with domestic workers."

Translation: Americans won't do these jobs.

What became of the bracero program? The law establishing the program expired in 1964.

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