Emigrant Agent Acts

By: Cynthia E. Orozco

Type: General Entry

Published: January 1, 1995

The Emigrant Agent Acts (sometimes called Emigrant Labor Agency Laws), a series of state laws passed from 1923 to 1929, sought to restrict the flow of Mexican-origin labor from Texas to other states. When industrial and agricultural employers in the Midwest and the North began utilizing Mexican-origin labor after quotas on European immigration were implemented by federal law in the early 1920s, Texas farmers feared for their labor supply. Throughout the 1920s sugar-beet companies annually recruited 10,000 Mexican workers to labor in the beet fields of Michigan and northern Ohio. State Representative A. P. Johnson from Carrizo Springs, Texas, introduced a bill in 1929 to charge out-of-state labor recruiters $7,500. It was negated by a federal court when a Michigan sugar-beet company petitioned the court. A later law levied a $1,000 charge on labor agents in Texas seeking workers for non-Texas jobs. In addition, there was a county surcharge of $100 to $300, the amount depending on the local labor market; each agent also had to purchase a ten-dollar license annually from each county in which he contracted. Another law required that labor agents post a $5,000 bond to ensure the return of recruited workers. A federal court ruled this law unconstitutional upon challenge by the beet companies. The beet companies furthermore utilized a loophole that exempted "private" agents, or those who worked for a single employer, from paying the tax.

The Emigrant Agent Acts received the endorsement of the American Federation of Labor, the South Texas Chamber of Commerce, the Winter Garden Chamber of Commerce, and the West Texas Chamber of Commerce. But they did not prevent the migration of workers to other states. Mexican-origin workers were recruited surreptitiously and transported on isolated country roads in overcrowded canvas-covered trucks. Growers sometimes ran labor agents out of town or shot their tires. The Emigrant Agent Acts were enforced by the state commissioner of labor statistics and after 1934 by the Texas Farm Placement Service. However, according to T. Y. Collins of the Texas Bureau of Labor, by 1940 the state had not collected any occupational taxes.

George Otis Coalson, The Development of the Migratory Farm Labor System in Texas, 1900–1954 (San Francisco: R&E Research Associates, 1977). David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836–1986 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987). Mark Reisler, By the Sweat of Their Brow: Mexican Immigrant Labor in the United States, 1900–1940 (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1976).
  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans
  • Labor
Time Periods:
  • Texas in the 1920s

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Cynthia E. Orozco, “Emigrant Agent Acts,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/emigrant-agent-acts.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995

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