NAFTA, poverty, and migration: the untold story of the immigration debate
Organizers of the massive immigrant-rights demonstrations are calling for a May Day (May 1) boycott -- no work, no shopping. Not all immigrant groups are in agreement with this call, but so it is with many movements -- some take direct action and others prefer to work inside the system.
Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, the debate is getting fired up again as the Easter recess ends. What few are discussing, though, is why millions of people would want to leave behind family and homes and risk their lives to work in the United States.
Here are a few hints: Poverty in the Mexican countryside went from 54% in 1989 to over 81% in 2001, especially hard hit were the farmers who find themselves in competition with cheap imported farm commodities. While productivity of Mexican workers has increased 50% since 1994, real wages dropped 9%. Industrial pollution in Mexico is up 50%. (The book, The Line Between Us, by Bill Bigelow of Rethinking Schools, is the source of these figures. The book contains great study materials for classes or study circles on US-Mexico border issues.)
So it shouldn't surprise us that the number of undocumented immigrants from Mexico has tripled to 6.2 million since 1990 -- during years when neoliberal globalization policies dominated relationships in the Americas.
The Zapatistas were among those who anticipated the devastating impact NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) would have on the economy of rural Mexico. It is no coincidence that they launched their rebellion on New Year's Day 1994, the year NAFTA took effect. And indeed, the dumping of subsidized agricultural products from the U.S., the dismantling of land reform, and other shifts in the rural economy of Mexico have so disrupted the economy of Mexico, that millions have traveled north in a desperate search for livelihood.
In the summer issue of YES! (coming to a newsstand and mailbox near you in mid-May), you can find an analysis of the impact of globalization policies on immigration. "Alternatives to a Wall," was written by Oscar A. Chacón and Amy Shannon of Enlaces América, a Chicago-based center for Latino and Caribbean immigrants, and Sarah Anderson, Global Economy program director at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.
Their article not only contains an analysis of the problem, it points to policies that would address the underlying reasons people leave their homes to find livelihoods.
Without understanding how globalization displaces people from their land and businesses, and turns farmers and small business people into migrants, we can't develop smart policies. Instead, the dialogue becomes one of U.S. workers--whose access to a regular paycheck is becoming increasingly tenuous--pitted against immigrant workers--whose livelihood has already been undercut.
Look for the summer issue and the YES! website for the policies Chacón, Shannon, and Anderson say could finally "Invite immigrants out of the shadows."