“FREE TRADE” AND IMMIGRATION: A primer
Prepared by Raul Fernandez, Ph.D. (Economics) and Professor at UC Irvine,
for the Hemispheric Social Alliance (Alianza Social Continental)
--Beginning in the early 1990s, the great increase in immigration from Mexico, Central America and South America coincides with the imposition of “free trade” policies and agreements –a euphemism for what should be called investor rights agreements. The U.S. govt, banks and corporations exerted pressure on pliable Latin American govts ruling poor, indebted countries.
--These policies require the elimination of protective tariffs and measures in Latin America while the U.S. continues its protective policies, esp. in agriculture. This so-called “Free trade” has meant no restriction of goods entering into Mexico, now Central America and Peru.
--NAFTA allowed the entry of US agricultural products into Mexico without tariffs or other kinds of barriers. The heavily protected US agro complex could do this while NAFTA required Mexico to dismantle agricultural supports and protection.
--At the time of the passage of NAFTA, some economists predicted that millions of agricultural jobs would be lost in Mexico, as poor farmers could not compete with the heavily subsidized imports dumped there.
--By 2006, Mexico had lost over two million agricultural jobs, including as many as 1.7 million small farmers who were forced off their land and into the migratory stream -- all because of cheap corn, milk, chicken, pork, beans, rice, all entering from the United States. Everyday about 600 people leave the Mexican countryside.
--There is little employment in local urban industry because there, too, “free trade” means the import of cheap U.S. manufactured products. The choices are: working in maquilas on the border, already saturated and losing employment to even cheaper China, or migrating to the United States.
--Before NAFTA, Mexican wages were 23% of U.S. wages; now they are about 12%.
--Of the millions of undocumented workers currently living in the United States 2/3rds came to the US after the passage of NAFTA in 1994, seeking relief from the disastrous economic conditions in Mexico.
--In 2005, at least 582,000 Mexican economic refugees immigrated north to the U.S.; the number was 559,000 in 2006. US responses to the increased migration include: militarization of the border, hunting down undocumented workers as if they were criminals, and the rise of demagoguery a la Lou Dobbs.
--At least 562 immigrants died trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in 2007. The average of the last ten years is one death per day. Deaths have increased as the militarization of the border has pushed economic refugees to cross over the more deserted and desolate areas.
--Hundreds of thousands of people from other countries that have been enduring these free trade policies have also been displaced, forced to migrate out of their countries. Tens of thousands have left Colombia which “opened” its economy to ‘free trade” in 1991. In El Salvador hundreds of thousands have migrated, about 1/3 of the entire population, mostly to the United States.
--Many Americans are angry at the presence of about 12 million Mexican, Central American, and South American undocumented migrants in the U.S.; but they have only to blame policies like NAFTA and other US-backed “free trade” policies put into effect in Mexico and other Latin American countries beginning in the early 1990s.
--Other treaties, like CAFTA, the recently approved Free Trade Agreement with Peru, and the proposed Free Trade Agreement with Colombia, will have similar results. In the words of Teamsters President Hoffa: Subsistence farmers will be forced off their land because cheap U.S. food produced by agribusiness will undercut their prices. The same thing happened with the North American Free Trade Agreement which resulted in millions of poor Mexicans leaving their farms.”
--The goal of the so-called “free trade” agreements is made crystal-clear in a letter sent recently to U.S. Congress Speaker Pelosi from the CEO’s of Citibank, Coca-Cola, General Motors, ExxonMobil and others about the proposed Colombian Free Trade Agreement. It says right at the beginning: “The US-Colombia FTA will: eliminate barriers to U.S. farm products….it will provide new sales opportunities for American farmers and ranchers. In other words: local agriculture will be destroyed and peasants and rural workers forced to migrate.
--These investor rights agreements and policies are intensifying the economic situation in Latin America, where 200 million people, more than 40% of the population, is living below the poverty line, more than 100 million people are completely impoverished, 40 million children live in the streets, and enormous inequality has been accelerated by these “free trade” policies that benefit multinationals and local groups connected with the import business.
--The beginning of a solution to the “immigration problem” begins with the reversal of the policies of a false “free trade” like NAFTA, CAFTA, and other agreements.