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"The Mirage of Mexican Guest Workers"

The highly recommended article "The Mirage of Mexican Guest Workers" from Foreign Affairs magazine (80 Foreign Affairs No. 6, November/December 2001) is required reading for anyone concerned about the Bush/Fox Amnesty. It was written in response to the amnesty Bush had proposed shortly before 9/11, however it's just as timely as if it was written last week. The authors are Philip L. Martin (UC Davis) and Michael S. Teitelbaum (Alfred P. Sloan Foundation).

Unfortunately, the full text is not available online. You can buy a copy here, or do as I did: go to your local library.

Here are some excerpts:

The only problem with this "win-win" scenario is that it will not work. Bush's proposal [the 2001 proposal --LW] ignores the fact that virtually no low-wage "temporary worker" program in a high-wage liberal democracy has ever turned out to be genuinely temporary. On the contrary, most initially small (and often "emergency") temporary worker programs have grown much larger, and lasted far longer, than originally promised.

...guest worker programs are virtual recipes for mutual dependence between employers and the migrants who work for them. Employers naturally grow to depend on the supply of low-wage and compliant labor, relaxing their domestic recruitment efforts and adjusting their production methods to take advantage of the cheap labor. History has shown that in agriculture (where many Mexican guest workers would be employed), a pool of cheap workers gives farm owners strong incentives to expand the planting of labor-intensive crops rather than invest in mechanized labor-saving equipment and the crops suitable for it...

...political leaders have often belatedly discovered that admitting temporary low-wage workers unnaturally sustains industries with low productivity and wages, such as garment manufacturing, labor-intensive agriculture, and domestic services. In consequence, the economy's overall productivity and growth suffer...

Proponents of a new Mexico-U.S. often portray it as a legal and humane alternative to what has become a huge problem - the unauthorized mass migration of Mexicans to the United States. Such advocates seem blind, however, to the unequivocal lessons of history. Far from mitigating illegal immigration, the two countries' last major temporary worker program actually initiated and accelerated its flow. During the so-called bracero ("strong-armed one") program from 1942 to 1964, the number of unauthorized Mexicans slipping across the border actually expanded in parallel with the number of authorized temporary workers; the illegal flows then continued to accelerate after the program's termination... Today, scholars largely agree that the 22 years of bracero employment created the conditions for the subsequent boom of unauthorized Mexican migration...

...California Farmer reported in 1963 that if the flow of braceros stopped, tomato growers and canners "agree the State will never [again be able to plant] the 100,000 to 175,000 acres planted when there was a guaranteed supplemental labor force in the form of the braceros..."

Reality, however, never confirmed these dire predictions. In 1960 some 45,000 farm workers (mostly braceros) had harvested 2.2 million tons of processing tomatoes. By 1999, it took only 5,000 workers to operate machinery that harvested some 12 million tons. Thanks to these efficiency gains from mechanization, the real price of processing tomatoes declined 54 percent while per capita consumption rose 23 percent...

Mon, 01/12/2004 - 22:53 · Importance: 4