President of Mexico Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador – commonly referred to by his initials, AMLO – suggested creating a new guestworker program that would allow migrant workers from Mexico and other Central American countries to work in the United States temporarily. AMLO estimated that such a program could bring 600,000 to 800,000 foreign workers to the United States.
This proposal mirrors the Bracero program which existed from 1942 until Congress terminated it in 1964. The program allowed mainly Mexican farmhands access to job opportunities in the U.S. Throughout the course of the program’s existence more than 4.6 million Mexican citizens worked on American farms.
Unlike the original Bracero program, AMLO’s proposal could also include workers outside of the agricultural sector, further increasing the number of guestworkers coming into the United States. Press Secretary Jen Psaki demurred when asked about the proposal in the White House press briefing, stating that any kind of program such as this would require congressional action.
President Biden should reject this proposal out of hand. The U.S. already has numerous guestworker programs that Mexican nationals can participate in, including the H-2A agricultural and the H-2B nonagricultural visa programs. There is no immediate need to replace these, and certainly not to increase admissions in guestworkers categories. Any workers in a Bracero-style program, especially if it included nonagricultural workers, would likely drive down the wages of low-income Americans, who have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 economic slowdown, with the unemployment rate for the bottom quartile of Americans standing at 23 percent. This is hardly the time for additional guestworker programs.
Former President Donald Trump and AMLO enjoyed a good rapport with each other, and the U.S. relied on Mexico through the Migrant Protection Protocols to help reduce illegal immigration to the United States by housing asylum-seeking aliens in Mexico while their immigration cases navigated the American immigration court system. AMLO never broached a new guestworker program with President Trump – at least publicly – and it is telling that he feels he can bring up such a proposal with Joe Biden, whose immigration vision is very different from Trump’s view.
While this is unlikely to ever come to fruition, it is no doubt alarming. Other proposals with similar parameters – like the Farm Workforce Modernization Act – do have support in Congress and would accomplish much of the same thing. FAIR opposed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act in the 116th Congress and continues to oppose the idea of expanding agricultural guestworker programs or giving amnesty to farmworkers.