The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 85, July 1981 - April, 1982 Page: 46
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Implementation of the 1917 law not only precipitated demands by
American employers for suspension of the 1885 and 1917 restrictions
on Mexican workers, but also led immediately to the surreptitious
entry of Mexicans into the United States.3 To meet the wartime de-
mands of American employers, the United States suspended contract-
labor, literacy test, and head-tax provisions for Mexican workers from
1917 to 1921 and, with the cooperation of the Mexican government,
arranged for the importation of some 72,000 workers, who contracted
directly with the employers. This legal, controlled migration of work-
ers stimulated a massive, illegal migration of Mexicans across an offi-
cially closed but virtually open border. The desire to reduce or stop
the illegal flow of Mexicans led the United States to establish the
Border Patrol in 1924. The Patrol could do little more than slow the
pace of illegal entrants throughout the 192os, however, because of
manpower shortages, budgetary constraints, ambivalent policies and
practices of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service
(INS), and pressures from labor-shy employers. Since Mexicans could
enter the United States virtually unimpeded, thousands migrated to
seasonal American jobs. Others came to stay.4
Although it generally deplored the low wages and poor conditions
under which niany Mexicans worked in Texas, the Mexican govern-
ment long had acquiesced in their use because of correlative benefits:
jobs, though foreign, relieved some economic distress directly, poten-
tial social and political unrest indirectly. Furthermore, the Mexican
government had no legal restrictions on emigration, whether tempo-
rary or permanent, and did little to keep workers from migrating. The
employment of Mexican workers in the United States, however, gen-
1885 Mexicans could not enter the United States as contract laborers, they were free to
work once they were in the country. For background information on Mexican migration
see Arthur F. Corwin, "Early Mexican Labor Migration: A Frontier Sketch, 1848-19oo,"
Arthur F. Corwin (ed.), Immigrants-and Immigrants: Perspectives on Mexican Labor
Migration to the United States (Westport, Conn., 1978), 25-37; Arthur F. Corwin and
Lawrence A. Cardoso, "Vamos al norte: Causes of Mass Mexican Migration to the United
States," ibid., 38-66; Mark Reisler, By the Sweat of Their Brow: Mexican Immigrant
Labor in the United States, I9oo-194o (Westport, Conn., 1976), 3-17.
3The terms "wetback" and "alambrista" quickly arose to characterize the method of
surreptitious entry: those who waded the Rio Grande and those who climbed the fence,
literally or figuratively, to evade the American restrictions.
40tey M. Scruggs, "The First Mexican Farm Labor Program," Arizona and the West,
II (Winter, 1960), 319-326; Reisler, By the Sweat of Their Brow, 24-42, 59-71. The 1917-
1921 bracero program set a precedent for the 1942-1947 wartime bracero program, which,
in turn, set a precedent for a massive 1951-1964 program. For general coverage of the
last two programs, see Richard B. Craig, The Bracero Program: Interest Groups and
Foreign Policy (Austin, 1971).
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 85, July 1981 - April, 1982, periodical, 1981/1982; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101208/m1/66/: accessed June 28, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.