Thursday, May 1, 2008

NAFTA to blame for rise in illegal immigration

Remember those activity books we had when we were kids where you'd have to connect the dots for the picture to take shape? If we connected the dots named NAFTA, illegal immigration, globalization, recession, job loss, environmental degradation and corporate greed, what would the picture look like? We're living in that picture but we have barely begun to connect the forces affecting us.

In 1995 2.5 million Mexicans were in the country illegally; by 2006, another 8 million had crossed the border. A major part of the blame has to go to the North American Free Trade Agreement. Why? Because more and more Mexicans can no longer make a living in Mexico!

  • NAFTA, by permitting heavily-subsidized US corn and other agri-business products to compete with small Mexican farmers, has driven the Mexican farmer off the land due to low-priced imports of US corn and other agricultural products. Some 2 million Mexicans have been forced out of agriculture, and many of those that remain are living in desperate poverty. These people are among those that cross the border to feed their families. (Meanwhile, corn-based tortilla prices climbed by 50%. No wonder many so Mexican peasants have called NAFTA their 'death warrant.'
  • NAFTA's service-sector rules allowed big firms like Wal-Mart to enter the Mexican market and, selling low-priced goods made by ultra-cheap labor in China, to displace locally-based shoe, toy, and candy firms. An estimated 28,000 small and medium-sized Mexican businesses have been eliminated.
  • Wages along the Mexican border have actually been driven down by about 25% since NAFTA, reported a Carnegie Endowment study. An over-supply of workers, combined with the crushing of union organizing drives as government policy, has resulted in sweatshop pay running sweatshops along the border where wages typically run 60 cents to $1 an hour. Roger Bybee and Carolyn Winter, CommonDreams, 2006.

Within four years of NAFTA's implementation, 2 million Mexicans had lost their jobs, Mexico's share of imported food grew from 25% to 43%, and 40 million people were living in extreme poverty. Momentum.

Now, with a growing worldwide food crisis, Mexico's food security has been gravely damaged. Yes, there's still food-- but it's growing increasingly unaffordable, as Mexico's cost of living has nearly tripled in the last twelve years, while wages haven't even gone up by a third. Many of Mexico's farmers were strongarmed into growing genetically modified corn-- only to find out that saving seed, a practice thousands of years old in Mexico, was now illegal. New seed has to be bought from companies like Monsanto every year.

What other countries, including Mexico, are experiencing as a tidal wave is still only making ripples on our shore, but our luck won't hold out forever. Until we stop confusing the symptom (illegal immigration) with the cause, we won't be able to take the steps we need to change our ever-darkening picture.

Denis Poroy/AP/Wide World Photos

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