The Journal Editorial Report | January 14, 2005 | PBS
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Briefing and Opinion
January 14, 2005

Bracero Program Workers
Mexican pamphlet
Mexican migrant workers, employed under the Bracero Program to harvest crops on Californian farms, are shown picking chili peppers in this 1964 photograph. The Bracero Program, a labor agreement between the United States and Mexico, supplied Californian farms in 1964 with 100,000 Mexican laborers. Bracero stems from the Spanish word for arm, "brazo,'' and refers to the hard manual labor. (AP Photo)

Attempts to regulate immigration while maintaining our open borders have always been swayed by historical and political forces. With the proposed "guest worker" program at the forefront of the Bush Administration's agenda, we take a brief look back on important immigration employment initiatives in the past.
Between 1943 and 1964, more than four million Mexican guest-workers were allowed into the United States in order to offset labor shortages following World War II. The agreement between the Mexican and U.S. goverments was ended in 1964 in order to protect domestic workers.
In 1986, Congress cracked down on employers who knowingly hired illegal immigrants with the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). The law also opened up a limited application period for illegal immigrants to apply for legal resident status, a provision which led to the naturalization of nearly three million people.
The Immigration Act of November 29, 1990, was not only responsible for a major raise in the annual immigration cap. It also removed some antiquated immigration legislation (such as the longstanding bar against communists) and created temporary protected status for immigrants from designated countries.
A controversial political talking point since its inception in 1993, NAFTA opened up the borders between the U.S. and its two closest neighbors, Mexico and Canada. The loosened restrictions on trade, immigration and agriculture included the allowance for certain types of professional workers to move freely between the three nations.
In 1996, Congress sought to crack down on the illegal immigrants in the U.S. The resulting legislation included an increase in border patrols, appropriations for INS investigators and the expedited removal of illegal aliens from the country.
In order to effect a broad restructuring of bureaucratic responsibilities regarding immigration policy, the HSA created the Department of Homeland Security, which assumed control of functions previously governed by the INS. The DHS is now responsible for enforcement of immigration laws in its effort to protect the U.S. from terrorist attacks.
The Bush Administration has long pushed for a controversial new guest worker program which would grant amnesty to millions of currently illegal workers in the U.S. While Bush claims that he is not in favor of instant naturalization, critics argue that the proposed regulation package would be detrimental to domestic workers.

Additional reading:
Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (
Immigration Act of November 29, 1990 (
Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (
INS Transition to the Department of Homeland Security (
The Homeland Security Act of 2002 (