Since its original printing in 1952, the publication of the Handbook of Texas has been made possible through the support of its users. As an independent nonprofit, TSHA relies on your contributions to close the funding gap for the online Handbook and keep it a freely accessible resource for users worldwide. Please make a donation today to preserve the most comprehensive encyclopedic resource on Texas history. Donate Today »


Cynthia E. Orozco

EMIGRANT AGENT ACTS. 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).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to:

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


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

Handbook of Texas Online, Cynthia E. Orozco, "EMIGRANT AGENT ACTS," accessed June 18, 2019,

Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Get this week's most popular Handbook of Texas articles delivered straight to your inbox