Congress is preparing to expand the guestworker program, but Mexican braceros remain unpaid after half a century.
By Adam Goodman & Verónica Zapata Rivera / Jacobin Magazine
Every Tuesday, 76-year-old Miguel Díaz spends the better part of the day outside the House of Representatives in Mexico City. Díaz went to the United States in 1960s as a bracero, a contracted guestworker. Upon returning to Mexico, he and millions of other braceros were never paid the 10 percent of their earnings that had been withheld and sent to the Mexican government in an attempt to ensure braceros’ temporary status.
Each week, Díaz is joined outside the House of Representatives by around 100 other braceros, as well as widows and children of braceros. The vast majority are in their 70s or 80s. Some live in Mexico City, but others travel hours from other states to get there. Wearing sombreros to protect themselves from the sun, the braceros hang a large banner on the fence in front of the House that reads, “EPN [Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto] Pay Us or Kill Us!” According to their organization, the Binational Bracero Proa Alliance, an average of 14 braceros die each day. Their cause is urgent.
The braceros’ struggle to recoup decades-old back pay sheds light on the unjust treatment and unexpected consequences of guestworker programs.