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Encyclopedia Of Arkansas Minute: The Bracero Program

A World War II program to bring Mexican workers into the United States provided inexpensive labor for Arkansas Delta farmers for more than twenty years.

The Bracero Program began in 1942, when American farmers were in need of labor to meet wartime demands. Workers were recruited in Mexico and signed contracts to work in the U.S. for up to ninety days, and were guaranteed housing, food and medical care.

In Arkansas, though, they were paid between thirty and fifty cents an hour, one of the lowest rates in the nation. Workers who complained were also easily deported. The bracero program continued to grow throughout the 1950s and reached a peak of thirty thousand workers in Arkansas in 1960.

As cotton growing became less labor intensive and more capital intensive, the need for cheap labor declined even as the minimum hourly wage for braceros was raised to sixty cents. The bracero program ended in 1964 and while some workers pursued legal mean to stay in the U.S., most returned to Mexico.

You can read the Encyclopedia of Arkansas entry on the Bracero Program at

Mark Christ produces and hosts Encyclopedia of Arkansas Minute on KUAR. He is head of adult programming for the Central Arkansas Library System. He previously served as community outreach director for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, which he joined in 1990 after eight years as a journalist.