The Trump Administration is not the first administration that has shown their true feelings toward immigrant communities. Regardless of party allegiance, every president has enacted xenophobic policies – even the ones we consider as “progressive.”
One of these xenophobic policies was the Mexican Repatriation. From the late 1920s to the early 1930s, the U.S. government deported more than one million individuals who had any Mexican ancestry regardless of their immigration status. This policy, enacted during a time of economic struggle, used Mexican-Americans as scapegoats whom could be blamed for the devastating economic crash. In 1954,there was Operation Wetback, which was one of the largest mass deportations of undocumented workers at the time. Under the Eisenhower-era immigration policy, 1.3 million deportations were processed, and xenophobia was out in the open, starting with the name of the operation.
Americans tend to forget the type of immigration policies adopted by the United States demonstrate its xenophilic nature. We love immigrants when it comes to exploiting their cheap labor. The xenophobia aspect comes when they see the same exploited immigrants fighting back. An example of this is the Bracero Program —where the United States, in collaboration with the Mexican government, established a guest-worker program in 1942. The program allowed Mexican citizens to work in the United States for agricultural companies to meet the food supply needs during World War II. These jobs were low-paying agricultural jobs, but these Braceros were “promised” a sense of stability with housing, transportation, decent pay, insurance, and meals. However, these workers faced countless abuses. Companies participating in the program treated them horribly and did not fulfill the promises they made to their immigrant labor force. For example, agricultural companies withheld 10% of their paychecks to be placed into a savings account, which could be accessed upon returning to Mexico. However, most of the Braceros did not receive the missing 10% of their paycheck when they went back home. Furthermore, Braceros workers faced xenophobic rhetoric from American workers and their bosses.
The Braceros program ended in 1964, under President John F. Kennedy due to the belief that the it was negatively affecting wages and employment opportunities of U.S citizens. Even though the 22-year-old program ended, the aftermath created a migration pattern to and from the United States. Mexican citizens continue to travel to the United States because they needed to sustain their families. This caused them to go ahead and go back to the same fields event though they were getting abused. The abuse they sustained were from the same owners who wanted their cheap labor that way they can gain more profits rather than hiring native-born Americans who many cost them more of their profits.
Due to programs like the Bracero Program, and the establishment of the migration patterns, we know many undocumented individuals work in the agricultural sector in the United States. 73% of farmworkers are immigrants according to The National Agricultural Worker Survey. The demand for cheap labor from American companies is caused by Americans’ lack of interest in working in the agricultural sector. Even applying the idea of ‘supply and demand’ could not help these companies fulfill Americans food demands without undocumented workers out on the fields. Raising wages and benefits to become more appealing to citizens has not worked and is now affecting these companies. Companies going under will become the reality for many business owners because of how eager the Trump administration is to deport undocumented workers. However, to be fair to the Trump administration, the policies allowing for mass deportations were prepared before he assumed office. One of them being is taking advantage of is the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA).
For example, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) is the bipartisan bill signed by President Bill Clinton that makes deporting undocumented workers much easier. This law created the foundation for the deportation machine we know today. Its increased penalties and the type of crimes any immigrant that violates “moral turpitude” meaning any behavior that violates the standard of the community. This applied to every undocumented worker and legal permanent resident, they can all face deportation for any non-violent crime. It also allowed for detaining and deporting individuals without due process. IIRIRA made it nearly impossible for undocumented individuals seeking legal status, to receive it because they needed to show “extreme hardships” cause to become a U.S Citizen through a process called “cancellation of removal.” Even if a judge grants their case, there is still a cap on how many individuals can adjust their status per year. These provisions on the law have and will continue affecting companies who rely on cheap labor brought by undocumented individuals because of the xenophobia rhetoric being spewed by the current administration.
The deportation enforcement being promised by the United States government will massively affect the agricultural sector. It will cause the prices of fruits and vegetables to soar, and, as mention above, will lead to a labor shortage as Americans refuse to work in this sector of the economy. We must understand that undocumented workers within agricultural sectors, and outside of it, need protections and bargaining power if they are to continue to help sustain the U.S economy.
Therefore, we need to reform visas such as the guest worker program or the H-2A, which allow U.S farmers to hire workers temporarily when there are not enough workers in the United States. However, as noted above, there are problems with programs, such as the Bracero Program, which exploit the immigrant labor force. Abused by their employers, and working deplorable conditions, immigrants are taken advantage of by employers who know they will face few consequences because foreign workers lack an understanding of their rights as workers. Thus, workers are robbed of their wages, through underpayment or the use of hourly wage rates that push workers to work faster. Workers are afraid to get fired and deported back to their native country if they speak out. They are also not allowed to change their employer if they are unhappy with the conditions they are accepted in. As a result, we see that the extent of the exploitation of foreign-born workers reaches unimaginable depths once you start scratching the surface of this visa program.
We need a better system than what we currently have. The United States has proven how much they love immigrants when it’s convenient, but their xenophobia always reappears in their handling of the policies surrounding immigration. We can see it in the way local businesses treat their employees, and in large corporations exploiting cheap labor overseas. America hates it when immigrant workers start fighting for their rights and for the end of their exploitation, and as a result, we must protect these workers who are a vital part of our economic stability. We need to establish protection for workers who are repeatedly exploited by their companies. These individuals are doing important jobs for low pay, and they are subjected towards inhumane treatment by a country who treats them as if they are disposable.