Immigration/Free Trade

April 2008 – NAFTA Is Sucking Immigrants Over The Border

By Karl Abrams 

When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) began on New Year’s Day 1994, a new age of free trade prosperity was expected to begin. Hundreds of thousands of US jobs would be created, immigration from Mexico would slow to a trickle and the living standards on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border would rise to new heights of economic abundance. Unfortunately, this never happened.

Originally pushed through by corporate interest, NAFTA remains a complex trilateral trade agreement which has eliminated most tariffs on traded products between Mexico, Canada, and the US.

The U.S. has already lost 3 million manufacturing jobs and six million Mexican peasant farmers have been driven off their ancestral land. They have had no choice but to migrate into Mexican cities or find their sad way north into the U.S. as slave-wage migrant workers. 

Mexico was once proud and self-sufficient in terms of indigenous food supply. Now it has to import 40% of its food for survival. Mexican corn (maize), for example, can no longer compete with imported U.S. subsidized corn. The Mexican farm industry has nearly been destroyed. As a result, the standard of living in Mexico has gone down and undocumented immigration has risen by at least 60%.

It was Mexico’s former President Carlos Salinas who signed the NAFTA agreement in 1994. What was he thinking? Salinas was aware at the time that NAFTA would destroy the livelihood of 10-13 million farmers and drive them off their land. He knew they would not be able to compete with US and Canadian untariffed grain imports. 

Salinas had hoped and assumed that fruit and vegetable exports would offset the loss to grain farmers. He was so wrong. Millions of farmers and their families have since gone broke, while fruit and vegetable exports have only marginally increased. 

NAFTA wrongly assumed that thousands of Mexican farmers who cultivated corn for hundreds of years would smoothly switch over to growing fruit (e.g. strawberries) and vegetables.

According to agriculture economist Professor Philip Martin of UC Davis, NAFTA proponents didn’t realize the difficulties farmers would have making a smooth transition. Without the Mexican government spending money on crop-change education and efficient roads, the switch-over will continue to be doomed.

Perhaps we should learn from the European Union. They have already implemented their plans to subsidize the infrastructure for poor countries like Portugal, Spain, and Greece to enter the EU. In this way, European countries can better “converge economically” and prevent mass migration of economically displaced people. 

Salinas believed that foreign manufacturers would hire low cost Mexican labor at fair wages. He knew that industrial jobs in Mexico would be created by eager US investors. General Electric, for example, has sent thousands of US jobs to Mexico. Today, the GE conglomerate and its partners employ 30,000 Mexicans at 35 factories. 

But, Mexican workers are only being offered wages half of what they were in the past. And, as the products of Mexican labor, from refrigerators to washing machines, are shipped back to the US, the people of Mexico will find they’ve become poorer than ever. 

In the last several months, tariffs on US corn, beans, sugar and powdered milk coming into Mexico have also been eliminated. This is going to further wipe out the livelihoods of a million more rural Mexicans. 

Farmers from across the country gathered in Mexico City last February to protest NAFTA, demanding renegotiation of NAFTA, restoration of grain self-sufficiency, and wage increases. 

US factories in Mexico can now take advantage of cheap Mexican labor to produce cheaper cars. US companies such as General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler can now ship cars and car parts anywhere in the US in just a few days. By some estimates, 60,000 US car related jobs have been lost since the NAFTA agreement began.

We must continue to challenge NAFTA as the root cause of Mexican immigration even as the Bush administration refuses to renegotiate the treaty.

It should be understood by all how NAFTA has forced millions of rural farmers off their land, decreased Mexican manufacturing job income and increased general unemployment. According to Harvard trade-economist Dani Rodrik, as the wages of Mexican workers continue to fall, they will continue to migrate northward.

The resulting migration into the US has yet to be understood by the average person in the US. Instead of understanding the bigger picture, there has been a dramatic rise in xenophobic hate groups that turn a blind eye to NAFTA as the true cause behind the erosion of worker’s rights on both sides of the border.

If American investment has flooded into Mexico to finance such factories and provide new jobs, why has the number of illegal immigrants continued to rise?

According to Robert A. Blecker, an American University economist, the actual number of manufacturing jobs has actually been decreasing (by almost 40%) since a high of 4.1 million was reached in 2000.

According to the latest annual report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups in the US has increased almost 50% over the last eight years.

Groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which claim more than 250,000 members, continue to have strong connections to underground white supremacist groups that have emphasized racist conspiracy theories about immigrants poised to “take over America”. 

At the same time however, a recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) shows that “immigrants are far less likely than the average US native to commit crimes” showing clearly that “long standing fears of immigration as a threat to public safety are unjustified.”

In fact, the PPIC has shown that while the the number of “illegal” immigrants has doubled since the 1994 enactment of NAFTA, violent crime have actually declined by nearly 35%. Last month, Time Magazine has also verified that there is “no correlation between immigrants and crime.” 

But immigrant hate groups like FAIR, hiding under the usual flag-draped guise of patriotism and main stream pundits like Lou Dobbs, continue to misrepresent these facts through propaganda and disinformation on TV and radio. So far, it has been a rare occurrence for our politicians and law makers to make any connection whatsoever to the flawed policies of NAFTA and its connection to increased immigration.

As usual, the biggest economic benefits are going to major transnational corporations like Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, General Electric and Wal-Mart.

Let us demand from our political leaders a complete review and renegotiation of NAFTA (including labor and environmental provisions) and a freeze on new trade pacts. 

Let us put pressure on US corporations doing business in Mexico to contribute generously towards the billions of dollars needed to stimulate new job growth in Mexico just as the European Union is doing for members of its union.

Let us welcome our newly immigrated Latino brothers and sisters with love and respect.

Leave a Reply