Needed NOW More Than Ever Before: Operation Wetback

Federal Observer Articles – Federal Observer
Operation Wetback was a repatriation project of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service to remove illegal Mexican immigrants “wetbacks” from the Southwest. During the first decades of the twentieth century, the majority of migrant workers who crossed the border illegally did not have adequate protection against exploitation by American farmers. As a result of the Good Neighbor Policy, Mexico and the United States began negotiating an accord to protect the rights of Mexican agricultural workers. Continuing discussions and modifications of the agreement were so successful that the Congress chose to formalize the “temporary” program into the Bracero program, authorized by Public Law 78. In the early 1940s, while the program was being viewed as a success in both countries, Mexico excluded Texas from the labor-exchange program on the grounds of widespread violation of contracts, discrimination against migrant workers, and such violations of their civil rights as perfunctory arrests for petty causes. Oblivious to the Mexican charges, some grower organizations in Texas continued to hire illegal Mexican workers and violate such mandates of PL 78 as the requirement to provide workers transportation costs from and to Mexico, fair and lawful wages, housing, and health services. World War II and the postwar period exacerbated the Mexican exodus to the United States, as the demand for cheap agricultural laborers increased. Graft and corruption on both sides of the border enriched many Mexican officials as well as unethical “coyote” freelancers in the United States who promised contracts in Texas for the unsuspecting Bracero. Studies conducted over a period of several years indicate that the Bracero program increased the number of illegal aliens in Texas and the rest of the country. Because of the low wages paid to legal, contracted braceros, many of them skipped out on their contracts either to return home or to work elsewhere for better wages as wetbacks.


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