International & Human Rights

Braceros Workers Class Action

Issue: International Litigation
Result: Settlement

Working with co-counsel, Lieff Cabraser succeeded in correcting an injustice that dated back 60 years. The case was brought on behalf of Mexican workers and laborers, known as Braceros (“strong arms”), who came from Mexico to the United States pursuant to bilateral agreements from 1942 through 1946 to aid American farms and industries hurt by employee shortages during World War II in the agricultural, railroad, and other industries.

As part of the Braceros program, employers held back 10% of the workers’ wages, which were to be transferred via United States and Mexican banks to savings accounts for each Bracero. The Braceros were never reimbursed for the portion of their wages placed in the forced savings accounts.

Despite significant obstacles including the aging and passing away of many Braceros, statutes of limitation hurdles, and strong defenses to claims under contract and international law, plaintiffs prevailed in a settlement in February 2009. Under the settlement, the Mexican government provided a payment to Braceros, or their surviving spouses or children, in the amount of approximately $3,500 (USD).

In approving the settlement on February 23, 2009, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer stated:

I’ve never seen such litigation in eleven years on the bench that was more difficult than this one. It was enormously challenging…. It had all sorts of issues … that complicated it: foreign law, constitutional law, contract law, [and] statute of limitations…. Notwithstanding all of these issues that kept surfacing … over the years, the plaintiffs persisted. I actually expected, to tell you the truth, at some point that the plaintiffs would just give up because it was so hard, but they never did. They never did. And, in fact, they achieved a settlement of the case, which I find remarkable under all of these circumstances.