The Bracero program stared during WWII to recruit temporary farm labor from Mexico. After having intimidated and repatriated over a million people of Mexican heritage out of the United States in the 1930’s agricultural businesses were worried they would face labor shortages to work in the midst of WWII. The US and Mexico came to a bilateral agreement to send millions of temporary workers to the States on temporary work visas to fill the labor gap.
Leonard Nadel, “A bracero stands in a field and has a machine in his hand for closing the full Toro lettuce boxes in the Salinas Valley, California. ,” in Bracero History Archive, Item #2936,
The program brought workers over on a temporary basis–denying them the right to remain in the US and the rights of citizens. It also undercut the ability of farm workers to unionize and create longstanding stable communities. Activists like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta viewed the program negatively as the Braceros were often used by agricultural companies to break strikes.
Leonard Nadel, “Braceros lean on the wall of a living quarter and attend a camp service in California. ,” in Bracero History Archive, Item #2927, http://braceroarchive.org/items/show/292
The program was only meant to last during the war but after the war ended big agricultural businesses wanted to continue the program as it provided them reliable and cheap labor. The program became law and was extended in 1951 indefinitely.
In 1960 Kennedy and the nation was shocked when CBS aired the film, Harvest of Shame that portrayed the harsh reality that farm workers in the States faced. That film can still be found on Youtube. The program was often maligned because it undercut American workers wages, but, an economic study now shows that the end of the program did not correspond to a raise in wages. The end of the program coincided with the strengthening of Chicano workers unions.
Leonard Nadel, “Braceros perform stoop labor and loosen the soil with a short-handled hoe in a field in the Salinas Valley, California. ,” in Bracero History Archive, Item #2881
Leonard Nadel, “Braceros walk over a field in crepuscular light in California. ,” in Bracero History Archive, Item #2920
This site braceroarchive.org has a large number of images, stories, and documents about the program. This is the US Government’s official archive of material on the Bracero program.
This site from the Smithsonian also has photos and a history of the Bracero program. This UCLA