Braceros, Traqueros and DACA Kids: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

reagan quote immigration

Ronald Reagan signed immigration reform into law in 1986 that was sponsored by former Wyoming US Senator Alan Simpson. The law gave amnesty to 3 million undocumented people.

The US government and railroads welcomed immigrant workers from Mexico. How did they end up coming to the United States in the first place?

I heard a presentation by Lu Rocha at a workshop organized by my grad school Center on Domestic Violence at CU-Denver.

She gave a history of the Latino/a/x/ labor force in the United States that dates back to the construction of the transcontinental railroad in the 1800s and propping up the war efforts between 1942 until it’s repeal in 1964.

The H2A and H2B visa programs for agricultural and non-agricultural workers are remnants of the Bracero Program.

Immigration issues have been in the news lately.

daca sign

POTUS 45 repealed DACA put in place by President Obama in 2012 as a stop-gap measure to protect kids of undocumented residents.

The Reagan administration signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986 which heightened border security but also granted amnesty to 3 million undocumented immigrants. This was a bi-partisan effort led in the US Senate by Wyoming’s Al Simpson.

Red and Blue presidents and congresses failed to act on immigration reform until Obama in his lame duck term issued the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrives (DACA) executive order which cut some slack to kids brought to the US by their undocumented parents. It was a compassionate Band Aid.

POTUS 45 is trying to move the needle. He overturned DACA effective in six months, hoping Congress will get its act together on immigration reform.

I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.

Immigration reform is a wedge issue for Republicans. They are against immigrants, generally, because of the supposed “taking of American jobs” rap. At the same time, American business is reliant on immigrant laborers who perform low-end work that regular Americans won’t do which is a throwback to the transcontinental railroad construction and World War II worker shortage.

traqueros

The Transcontinental Railroad was completed by laborers from Mexico.

Traqueros In 1881 Governor Luis Terrazas of Chihuahua drove a silver spike completing a rail line linking Mexico and United States which allowed immigrants transport to the United States and coincided with the West’s construction of the transcontinental railroad.

Mexicans were the dominant immigrant labor laying track in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Despite low wages compared to their native born coworkers and discrimination, immigrant Mexican laborers became permanent residents, not by law but by fact. By the time of the Great Depression, workers moved to the cities in search of other low-skill work.

Bracero Program

The US Department of Labor and the Immigration and Naturalization Service collaborated on the Bracero Program at the start of World War II. Braceros were allowed in to the US to provide help on farms during wartime.

Braceros The bracero program (Spanish for manual laborer) began in 1942 and operated as a joint program of the State Department, the Department of Labor, and the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS), as it was known then, in the Department of Justice.

Laborers from Mexico were promised better living conditions in camps, including housing, meals and toilet facilities. They eventually were paid a minimum wage of 30 cents / hour. The pact also stated that braceros supposedly would not be subjected to discrimination and exclusion from “white-only” areas.

During World War II, the bracero program intention was to fill the labor gap, particularly in agriculture. The program lasted 22 years and offered employment contracts to 5 million braceros in 24 U.S. states—becoming the largest foreign worker program in U.S. history.

The bracero program caused problems on both sides of the border with labor shortages in the northern states in Mexico and resulted in illegal immigrants who remained in the United States. Millions of Mexican Americans attribute their roots to their fathers and grandfathers who crossed the border as braceros.

DACA MASS WALKOUTDACA Circle back to DACA kids. They are the modern day traquero/a/x and bracero/a/x. They are people who arrived in the United States under the radar as children.

Like the braceros and traqueros, while they should have returned to Mexico, those families have remained – while looking over their shoulders – without documentation and became productive members of their communities.

The DACA kids ended up with high school and college educations, contribute to society in professional jobs, have families of their own with kids in local school systems. They pay taxes and volunteer in their communities.

When the Bracero Program was ended in 1964, the positive outcomes were better working conditions for farm workers thanks to advocacy by activists including Cesar Chavez and Delores Huerta. There were no immigration laws that turned traqueros back to Mexico.

DACA was a short term fix when Obama acted because Congress didn’t. The immigration issue has come full circle from 1986.

Whether Congress and POTUS 45 get their acts together on immigration reform will be a defining moment for the Republicans like it was for Republicans and Ronald Reagan.

Until then – don’t ask, don’t tell.

simpson reagan signing“We have consistently supported a legalization program which is both generous to the alien and fair to the countless thousands of people throughout the world who seek legally to come to America. The legalization provisions in this act will go far to improve the lives of a class of individuals who now must hide in the shadows, without access to many of the benefits of a free and open society. Very soon many of these men and women will be able to step into the sunlight and, ultimately, if they choose, they may become Americans.” Ronald Reagan on November 6, 1986 upon signing the Immigration Control and Reform Act.

 

 

 

 

 

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Post inaugural conversation: ‘when do self interests end and community begin’?

trump-rally-fight

The 2016 election exposed huge cultural divides in the United States. In a post-inauguration world, how can we bridge the gaps?

Whether you like the outcome of the national election or not, the results exposed glaring divisions in society around gender, social class and immigration status. We want to change the story about civility and our personal interactions with others.

One thing we all have is a personality. Our backgrounds and experiences influence how we deal with others, why we put our needs ahead of others.

Collaborative communities such as coop housing and cohousing which are inherently defined as being inclusive and work toward the good of the whole may hold some answers about bridging cultural, social and economic divides … but:

  • Do American cultural norms contradict “community”? We’re socialized to be rugged individuals, pull our selves up by our boot straps, bigger houses, earn more money.
  • Now that Boulder is an immigrant “Sanctuary” – where will our new neighbors live? Boulder hung out a big “vacancy” sign welcoming immigrants of any status to town and at the same time approved cooperative  housing.
  • How do we reach out to those not “like us?” Folks intellectually get the idea of equity and inclusion, but easier said than done in community that is not very “diverse” in the first place.
  • Do egos sometimes get in the way with self or personal interests pushed on the larger community? Hubris among all creates stale mates and zero sum games.
  • As individuals what are we willing to give up for the good of the whole? Based on traditional American cultural norms each of us has deep values choices to make.

We likely won’t solve all the neighborhood or world problems but you’re invited to bring your brown bag lunch and have a great conversation to meet your neighbors:

Bring your lunch and 100 of your closest friends!
Tuesday, January 24
11:30am to 1:00pm-ish
Wild Sage Village Common House
(Enter through the courtyard door)
1650 Zamia – Boulder, CO 80304

living-room-conv-logoThe mission of “Living Room Conversations” is to cultivate respectful engagement among people who may hold different points of views, and build relationships that generate understanding and enable collaborative problem solving.

Two North Boulder cohousing residents will facilitate the conversation:

Both are members of the Living Room Conversation team embarking on a pilot project in North Boulder and sponsored by the city of Boulder.

I was an illegal worker in Mexico

francisco lopez barajas

My business partner in Zacatecas Mexico Faustino Lopez Barajas.

I generally only write about things that I’ve experienced personally. I’m becoming more convinced with the recent flood of children crossing the into Texas, that the United States has the most porous border of any nation in the world.

Let me tell you about the time I was shaken down by soldiers with machine guns for being an illegal worker in Mexico. It was a very helpless feeling.

Maybe it’s that poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty by Emma Lazarus:

tablette-statue-de-la-liberte

Turns out, if you’re from a European country, this quote is more applicable.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Most other countries have largely indigenous populations that have lived there for centuries. The US, on the other hand, conquered the locals fair and square, and that was just over 200 years ago. 

I did business in Mexico for six years or so starting in 1992 when the North American Free Trade Act went into effect. Then US Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown held a bunch of meetings around the country, including one in Denver. I was working for the Northern Arapaho Tribe at the time in economic development and went down to check it out. At that time, the tribe was looking to sell its hay.

hotel sombrerete

Downtown Sombrerete

After all the speeches, there was a round table session with representatives from businesses in Mexico. Most everyone split and left all these business people sitting alone. I stuck around and sat down with a group of guys from a credit union based in a small town called Sombrerete in the state of Zacatecas. It’s located in the north central part of Mexico. We hit it off and they invited me down for a visit.

A friend and colleague of mine flew down to check things out. A couple tribal guys – Fred and Gary – and I started up the 600 acre Arapaho Farms. The Arapaho Tribe was big into sustainable agriculture at the time and was interested in farming practices in Mexico – like using a tree branch hooked up to a mule as a harrow. As it turned out the farming thing in Mexico didn’t work out.

Meanwhile I began consulting for a marketing company based in Boulder which had a manufacturing facility in Alamosa, Colorado. They made and sold hair accessories. The manufacturing costs, even in Alamosa were too high.

francisco mexico city

Francisco at the Mexico City factory.

I mentioned that I had experience in Mexico and when I was down there before, I learned that some of the small towns would be devoid of working age people – mostly men – who went to the US to work – many illegally. I figured out that workers would rather stay in their home towns rather than leave, but there is no work in the middle-of-nowhere Mexico. The immigration policies favored US businesses wanting to create jobs there.

My idea was to recruit home sewers and assemblers in Sombrerete to make the hair accessories, rather than establish on the US – Mexico border, which is the generally accepted maquilla model.

maquila worker

The factory in Zacatecas.

The operation called Luna Llena at its peak employed two shifts of 50 people. We had a bonded warehouse on the border in McAllen, Texas. The first shipment was a disaster, though. How the process works is simple. The idea is to send 10 straps, 10 beads and 10 feathers through customs in Mexico. Then the materials are assembled and the completed 10 pony tail holders are then shipped to the US warehouse.

The finished inventory didn’t match up with the raw materials list. After getting that workflow figured out, everything went smoothly.

One of the best things about Mexico is the time zones are the same as the US. I sometimes flew into Guadalajara or Zacatecas, but mostly flew into Mazatlan in the state of Sinaloa, hung around the beach for a few days then took the bus to Sombrerete. “Papers? We don’t need no stinkin’ papers!” I traveled uneventfully on a passport and a tourist visa for five years.

In 1997 President Clinton and the President of Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo signed an agreement hoping to stem illegal immigration and drugs from flowing to the US.

clinton zedillo

US President Clinton and El Presidente de Mexico Ernesto Zedillo

One of my business partners, Francisco,  was driving us from Sombrerete to Zacatecas in a beat up Toyota pickup with expired California plates. Just outside the town of Fresnillo we were stopped by an armed cadre of soldiers.

We were ordered out of the truck and handed over our papers. I had my US passport and the tourist visa from Mazatlan, which immediately caused problems.

Francisco and I were separated. He was worked over in Spanish and I was worked over in English. A third soldier emptied the truck and tossed my suitcase and repacked it. After an hour we were cleared to go, but not quite. My suitcase was again turned upside down and rechecked for contraband.

I was an illegal in central Mexico on a tourist visa from a coastal state.

They let us go.

I did go through the process to get a visa to work in Mexico. It’s not as big of a deal as it is in the US. I had to get a letter from my partner about the nature of our manufacturing work and took it to the Embassy for Mexico in Denver, pay $125 and I was granted a work visa.

There are plenty of isolationists, including Donald Trump, who want to close the US borders to immigrants – legal or illegal – who at the same time are against moving US jobs off shore.

I’m convinced that the best way to stem immigration from Latin America is for international companies from the US and elsewhere of all sizes to move there and create jobs for locals.

My gig in Sombrerete was good while it lasted.

What happened?

Francisco’s brother, Faustino, was the brains of the operation. He was the only guy among his group who spoke English and had a US visa. On his way to Colorado, he became very ill. Turned out he had cancer.

He moved himself and his extended family to Mexico City for better medical care and eventually died. Francisco moved the factory to Mexico City, which made a sense in a lot of ways and took the business in a different direction and sewed clothing.

I haven’t been back to Sombrerete or Mexico lately. Looking back, it was very isolating being the only English speaker for miles around. Communication was exhausting and I wore out a couple English – Spanish dictionaries.

I hear that Ecuador is now a big haven for expat Americans but I don’t think I’d want to live among them.