Monday, May 01, 2006

The Problem with Immigration

The current turmoil over illegal immigration--including the largest demonstrations in U.S. history--has resulted in reams of foolishness. Whether it be the standard complaint that "these people" are lawbreakers and should be criminalized (the approach of House Republicans), or the boilerplate lament that all immigrants, legal or illegal, always help rather than hurt the American economy (the approach of the protesters and their supporters), or the guest-worker program pushed for years by the Bush administration, nearly all arguments have so far suppressed a critical fact: the nefarious role of the North American Free Trade Agreement in stimulating emigration from Latin America. An article by Roger Bybee and Carolyn Winter, "Immigration Flood Unleashedby NAFTA," ( makes this crystal clear.

Where NAFTA was supposed to "solve" the problem of immigration, it has done just the opposite. It has allowed American corporations like Walmart to flood the Mexican market with cheap goods, thus putting small Mexican companies out of business, and forcing already underpaid Mexican workers to compete with labor in China and elsewhere. It has encouraged American agribusiness to overwhelm Mexico with U.S. grown corn, which is so heavily subsidized by U.S. taxpayers that Mexican growers cannot compete (this is reminiscent of what happened in Italy in the 1880s, with exactly the same result: impoverished peasants who fled to America in droves). All this, plus American factories in border towns paying starvation wages, has created such massive displacement (poor farmers and workers moving to overburdened cities with no jobs) and misery that the rate of immigration has dramatically increased since 1996 when NAFTA was signed. Whereas only about 2.5 million Mexican illegals were here in 1996, more than 8 million have crossed the border illegally since then, thanks in large part to NAFTA. "Free trade" has turned out to be the "free fall" of wages and living standards not only in Mexico, but in all of the Americas, and that includes the United States.

As Bybee and Winter put it:
The wholesale surge of Mexicans across the border dramatically illustrates that NAFTA was no attempt at a broad uplift of living conditions and democracy in Mexico, but a formula for government-sanctioned corporate plunder benefiting elites on both sides of the border. NAFTA essentially annexed Mexico as a low-wage industrial suburb of the USA.
No amount of half-baked solutions by politicians trying to appease an aroused electorate will fix this mess. Only a serious and courageous look at the dominant reign of corporatism and globalization can ever hope to stop the massive migration of the world's new wage slaves.


Anonymous Bladerunner said...

Are you saying we should not control illegal immigration and not try to provide a legitimate path to legal residency and perhaps citizenship to many of the 12 million people in the U.S. without legal documents while we discuss the finer points of globalization and corporatism?

3:50 PM  

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