Mexican American Political Association
March 02, 2007
NCLR’s Embrace of Bracero-type Program a Trojan Horse
“Is this indentured alien – an almost perfect model of the economic man, an ‘input factor’ stripped of the political and social attributes that liberal democracy likes to ascribe to all human beings ideally – is this bracero the prototype of the production man of the future?” – asked Ernesto Galarza, the legendary author, labor organizer, community leader, and founder of the National Council of La Raza in his seminal work, “Merchants of Labor” in 1964, wherein he described the managed migration of Mexican farm workers in California from 1942 to 1963.
Fast forward to the current national debate around federal immigration reform and we encounter Galarza’s creation, NCLR, morphed into a naked apologist for that sector of corporate America, which is clamoring for modern-day braceros – and not solely reserved for agriculture. But, then again, it probably couldn’t have been otherwise. NCLR has been marketed by American big business as the “largest Hispanic civil rights organization in the U.S.” – a figment of a not too sophisticated marketing strategy, but almost entirely funded and subsidized by the Wal- Marts of the U.S. corporate landscape.
There is nothing in the distant or recent history of similar contract-worker programs in the U.S. that would inspire confidence in any of the current proposals for what NCLR’s CEO, Janet Murguia, has called a “new worker program.” She recently declared in an op-ed piece published in the Washington Post on February 11, 2007, that her “organization and many Latino leaders find ourselves in the interesting position of being principal advocates for a significant new worker visa program as part of comprehensive immigration reform.” Yet, she fails to identify what other “Latino leaders” advocate such a position, or organization that has a track record of advocating for and representing immigrant workers, or immigrant leaders and organizations. She couldn’t because there are none. In the same piece, Murguia lays out the historical experience of bracero programs as “dreadful,” “infamous,” and “synonymous with worker abuse,” yet goes on to advocate for a modern version of the program – an incredible summersault of logic.
We should remember that this is the same organization in the early 1990s – in the name of the Latino community - that was a vociferous supporter of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has resulted in the loss of millions of American jobs, and the displacement of no less than three million Mexican small farmers from their lands, notwithstanding the opposition by labor and community-based organizations on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border during those debates. This is relevant because it goes to the question of whose interests are served by NCLR’s position on a new bracero program, and whose interests are prejudiced. Simply put, who wins and who loses?
NCLR has no history, trajectory, or reputation for serving individual immigrants in the problems that they encounter in America. It has no first-hand experience in case management in filing wage claims or addressing the systematic violations of the terms and conditions of existing contract-labor programs – H-2A and H-2B, for example. It has no stomach for litigating endemic injustices committed by employers who rob the contract laborers of the value that they create, and that stab to undermine existing prevailing wage standards, and thus, make more tenuous the social standing of native-born workers. Neither has NCLR advocated for the just resolution of the claims made by previous bracero workers who were denied the social security benefits, the funds of which were deducted from their wages, and due them by the U.S. and Mexican governments.
The Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, comprised of agribusiness, and major American corporations, but also includes NCLR, the National Immigration Forum, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and UNITE-HERE, with cozy relations with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has been at the forefront in advocating for the 21st Century bracero program.
Contrariwise, all other labor unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, immigrants’ rights coalitions, national and regional Latino organizations, and immigrant-member organizations have steadfastly opposed bracero-type programs.
What we are witnessing today is a debate shaping up similar to that which occurred prior to the passage of NAFTA in 1994. Let’s call it NAFTA II, or NAFTA coming home to roost. A massive “guest-worker” program constitutes nothing more then the importation of bound labor, cheaper than domestic labor, the inverse effect of the massive exportation of manufacturing jobs to cheap labor aboard. Speaking before the American Trucking Association recently, Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, stated that a successful guest- worker program could “give all of you all the truck drivers you can hire.” Trucking companies are currently experiencing driver shortages. This is the real intent of big business with regard to any new contract-labor program, however the advocates of such may seek to soften the name with “guest,” “temporary,” or “new worker.”
U.S. Senator Ernest Gruening, who served in the U.S. Congress during the previous bracero period, observed at the time that, “Although American private enterprise was the beneficiary of an ample and docile labor supply, a large part of the costs were borne by the U.S. Government, i.e., the American taxpayers.” He characterized the program as one in which “corruption and exploitation were its steady concomitants. Gradually the imported labor replaced the domestic.”
Murguia claims that the critics of her position offer “no practical solutions for the flow of migrants that will surely continue or for the abuses these workers will face if they survive the trip across the border.” More than a decade after the approval of NAFTA, a fair trade to the new migrants who come to America to provide valued labor and service is a permanent visa – either employment-based or family relative-based. This would be the best measure to assure that prevailing wage standards are protected, that domestic labor not be undermined, and that labor and civil rights, and civil liberties, are more easily guaranteed. There can be nothing more practical to the migrant worker than permanent legal residency, which provides the minimum modicum of negotiating power with the employer, freedom of movement cross borders, a true statutory path to citizenship, and the ability to immigrate other loved ones.
Only such permanence in visa status will assure that new migrant workers not become a stratified permanent second-class workforce available primarily to benefit employers. Permanent legal resident status in exchange for the valued labor of the migrant worker is what I would call a fair trade, instead of the notoriously unfair “free trade” concept associated with NAFTA.
Nativo V. Lopez, National President of the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), and the National Director of Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana. 2-26-07
WASHINGTON POST (Murguía Op-Ed): A Change of Heart on Guest Workers
By Janet Murguía Sunday, February 11, 2007; B07
After President Bush highlighted the need for a temporary-worker program as part of a larger immigration reform in his State of the Union address, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) compared the president's proposal to slavery. Rangel is right to be concerned. Our nation's history with such programs has been dreadful.
Many Latinos still have searing memories of the infamous bracero program, which more than 50 years ago became synonymous with worker abuse. The current guest-worker programs for agriculture and other "non-skilled" labor are not much better. Experience tells us that there is good reason to be concerned that a new worker visa program could repeat these mistakes, creating a permanent, sizable subclass of workers who endure harsh treatment while simultaneously undercutting their American co- workers.
Despite these concerns, after decades of strongly opposing temporary-worker programs for the very reasons that Rangel articulates, my organization and many Latino leaders find ourselves in the interesting position of being principal advocates for a significant new worker visa program as part of comprehensive immigration reform.
Some think we got here as the result of some devil's bargain with our allies among business leaders: They get a new worker program, and we get a path to citizenship for undocumented workers. Not so. We have concluded that a new legal pathway for the future flow of immigrant workers to the United States is the safest, most reasonable path for immigrant workers, for their co-workers in this country, and for a nation hungry for order and control at the border.
We share that hunger. Latinos know that even if we pass immigration reforms that include a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants who work, pay taxes and otherwise contribute to the United States, we will have failed to fix our nation's broken immigration system unless we do what previous reforms did not: Acknowledge that there will continue to be a flow across the border and that we will do everything we can to control and regulate it.
If this year's immigration debate accomplishes what the debate in 1986 did -- marry a legalization program with additional enforcement without addressing the future flow of migrants -- we will have addressed the symptoms of our broken system without repairing it. The cost of this mistake will be enormous: a continued death toll at the border; a sizable flow of undocumented workers who come to this country under harsher conditions; increased harassment of and discrimination against Hispanic Americans often mistaken for immigrants; and exacerbated public frustration that the immigration issue is still not under control.
But we do not have to repeat past mistakes. The immigration reform bill the Senate passed last year contains a much different model of a worker visa program than the unjust model we have lived with for decades. Workers would not be at the mercy of abusive employers in that they could change jobs and alert the authorities to mistreatment. Rather than becoming a permanent second-class workforce, they would have the opportunity to earn a path to permanent status -- and ultimately citizenship -- as one of the only classes of migrants able to petition for themselves rather than relying on an employer or relative to petition for them. There are important labor protections for immigrant workers as well as for their American co-workers, including a requirement that immigrant workers be paid the prevailing wage in an industry to avoid undercutting the wages of American workers employed there. The 110th Congress has an opportunity to build from this strong start and do even better.
We are deeply aware of the risks of going down this path in the immigration reform debate, including accusations that we are selling out one group of immigrant workers to help another. But our critics offer no practical solutions for the flow of migrants that will surely continue or for the abuses these workers will face if they survive the trip across the border. We owe it to migrants, as well as to the nation that their hard work will sustain, to shape a new path for migration that is legal, safe and endowed with protections for immigrant and American workers alike.
The writer is president and chief executive of the National Council of La Raza.
Join us in this prolonged campaign for driver's licenses and visas for our families. The first step in making change is to join an organization that pursues the change we desire. We welcome you to our ranks.
Other organizations leading this movement include: Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana, Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), MAPA Youth Leadership, Liberty and Justice for Immigrants Movement, National Alliance for Immigrant's Rights, and immigrant's rights coalitions throughout the U.S..
Nativo V. Lopez, National President of MAPA (323) 269-1575