NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Guest Workers Suing U.S. Government for Lost Savings

January 31, 2002

Is it safe to trust the U.S. government with workers' retirement savings, as more than 100 million American workers do through the Social Security program? Some 300,000 former guest workers who came to the United States 60 years ago at the government's invitation might say no. They are still waiting for money withheld from their paychecks that the U.S. and Mexican governments were supposed to safeguard in savings accounts in their names.

Beginning in 1942 thousands of Mexican workers came to the United States as part of a guest-worker program. The braceros -- Spanish for "strong arm" -- tended farms, worked on railroads, and otherwise provided muscle for the American economy, especially during World War II. Now, a group of aging braceros is suing to recoup hundreds of millions of dollars they say they are owed.

  • The money had been withheld from their pay between 1942 and 1948 and was supposed to go into savings accounts set up by the Mexican and American governments.
  • About 300,000 braceros worked in the U.S. during the period.
  • But the bracero program leaked money everywhere, and money in various government-run Mexican banks was mismanaged.
  • For example, an audit of one Mexican bank in 1947 found that bracero savings accounts totaling about $4 million had not been distributed.

Bracero lawyers allege both governments broke their promises to make savings funds available.

The U.S. government says the case belongs in Mexican courts, while that government says it's immune from suits filed in foreign courts. Mexico says it has no documents supporting the braceros' claim, but documents examined by the Dallas Morning News show both governments kept records of what each bracero was owed -- and recorded scores of complaints about missing savings.

Source: Alfredo Corchado and Ricardo Sandoval, "Braceros Want an Old Promise Met," Dallas Morning News, January 27, 2002.


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