WWII-era Mexican braceros settlement

by Walter Olson on November 9, 2008

The government of Mexico has agreed to pay about $14.5 million to settle claims on behalf of its citizens who came north as guest workers between 1942 and 1946. Ten percent of the workers’ pay was deducted and sent back to the Mexican government, which was supposed to apply much of it to their benefit, but (according to advocates) substantial sums were never claimed or paid out. Many years later the Mexican government opened a compensation program for the elderly braceros and their survivors, but some of those resident in the U.S. found it too hard to use and a Chicago class-action lawyer sued.

The lawsuit was dismissed twice, as courts considered whether too much time had passed and whether a lawsuit against the Mexican government could have standing in the United States. The American government and Wells Fargo Bank, initially named as defendants, were dismissed from the case.

(Pam Belluck, “Settlement Will Allow Thousands of Mexican Laborers in U.S. to Collect Back Pay”, New York Times, Oct. 15; “Mexican ministry OK with braceros deal”, AP/BakersfieldNow, Oct. 17).

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1 JTT 11.09.08 at 10:49 pm

I’m not sure it’s fair to tag this as “reparations.” I realize that tags are loosely applied in some circumstances, but still, this seems to be a essentially a contract claim. It seems to me laches should have barred a recovery, but even so it still doesn’t seem to be reparations.

2 Walter Olson 11.09.08 at 11:05 pm

You’re right, tags are loosely applied in some circumstances. In this case the combination of 1) being filed against a foreign sovereign entity in its pursuit of official policies, 2) overcoming serious laches/time-bar problems, and 3) general “exploitation” atmospherics is likely to ensure that this case gets referenced in the literature on reparations. Compare the claims over bank accounts, insurance policies, buildings and businesses lost in wartime or confiscated by bad regimes — not quite “reparations” when looked at closely, either, but often grouped together for convenience.

3 James 11.10.08 at 9:12 am

I assumed the tag was simply meant to suggest that this topic relates to reparations, not necessarily to define this settlement as reparations.

You can be sure that this settlement will be discussed in reparations circles, as this case has been an example in those circles for a long time.

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