With the Supreme Court taking on US v Texas this coming week, we often wonder why so many undocumented workers from Mexico and other countries are in the United States. In addition, this election year has raise the stake of the situation of undocumented people inside the United States. Some want to deport them all others want to deport them and build a wall.
Illegal immigration has been a rather tenacious issue within American politics for the past few decades. However, despite the media spotlight on illegal immigration, the American public remains in the dark as to why there are more than 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States today. The entire debate over illegal immigration has been dumbed down into mere catchphrases. Anti-immigrant groups claim that “illegals are taking jobs away from hard working Americans,” while pro-immigrant rights groups claim that “illegals are taking the jobs that most Americans wouldn’t do anyway.” The reality is that there is truth to both claims. However, both camps in the debate don’t address how American economic policies towards Mexico and its inability to enact comprehensive immigration reform have greatly exacerbated the issue of illegal immigration in the United States.
In discussing this debate, very few people ask why so many “illegal” immigrants or undocumented people are currently in the United States. Would it not be natural to ask why anyone living in their native country would pack up their bag (yes a bag), cross a militarized border that is patrolled by police, attack dogs, military vehicles, and volunteer soldiers? Why would anyone go through the trouble of crossing such a gauntlet to come to a country where he/she would have zero civil rights and virtually no human rights as an illegal alien? Why would anyone leave the country they grew up in to immigrate to a country where the people speak a different language, are largely ambivalent to you, and where you would have virtually no legal rights and no guaranteed path to some form of legal status?
Of course we all know the answer to that question – he/she just wants a decent job. But why aren’t there any jobs in Mexico? Is it because Mexico suffers from corrupt political institutions, the global economic meltdown, or is it that the Mexican elite stranglehold on the Mexican economy is so severe that it leaves very little room for upward social mobility?
Technically, all the above reasons are true, but then again several countries suffer from these problems in various forms including the United States where the upper 1% control more than half of the collective wealth of the United States. The unequal economic stratification of society is not anything new nor is it unique to any specific country nor is the United States as the world’s most powerful nation spared from this reality. However, Mexico suffers from an issue that the United States does not.
This issue is the unequal domination of its economic markets by the United States through unfair trade agreements. This troublesome issue was magnified in 1994 with the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). NAFTA which sounds pretty on paper (anything with the word free on it must be a good thing) has been largely detrimental to the average Mexican household. Mexico, which had a large agricultural sector has seen that facet of its economy take heavy damage largely in part thanks to the effects of NAFTA.
Wouldn’t free trade between nations be a good thing? Wouldn’t the easing of tariffs and other trade obstacles create a level of economic parity between wealthy and poor nations? That is after all what every single neo-liberal economics talking head on CNN and FOX news vomits on our TV screens everyday.
The problem is that Mexico, having a vastly smaller economic status, and a vastly smaller industrial sector, and taxable base cannot compete with the United States (who just so happens to be the numero uno economic juggernaut of the world). NAFTA effectively exploits this inconvenient fact. In the case of Mexican farm workers, American companies and farmers moved in and began dumping American produce on Mexican territory at prices that were far cheaper than what the Mexicans could produce themselves. The United States could do this because the American farmer benefits from large subsidies from the American tax payer and could therefore undercut the Mexican farmer virtually every single time.
When people in Mexico saw that American corn is half the price of Mexican corn, they naturally opt to buy the American corn. After a few years, large sections of the Mexican agricultural sector became uneconomical and workers associated with farms began losing their jobs.
This resulted in the rapid downward spiraling of the Mexican economy. Those recently unemployed farmers no longer have an income and they thus begin to buy far less items at the stores. This puts the store owners out of business, which then puts suppliers out of business, which then puts municipal workers out of business, etc. The downward spiral continues to spiral downward and what you have left is a high unemployment rate and very little in the way of government aid to mitigate the damage.
So what do all these unemployed Mexicans do? They travel North! They cross heavily guarded borders, sleep in the desert, and risk being run over by SUV’s, to find themselves working low wage jobs that many Americans would shun. Many of them work seasonal positions where they work the fields of some central Californian farm then cross the border back to Mexico on the off season only to return again the next season (a situation that is ironically complicated by the construction of the border wall).
In the period since NAFTA went into effect in 1995-2005, the illegal immigrant population in the United States doubled. That population has only continued to grow in the years since then. Unfortunately, responses to illegal immigration have been drastic, harsh, and unconstitutional. Many people actually believed that Arizona laws like SB1070 which give cops the right to racially profile citizens of the United States was the way to address the issue of illegal immigration. Fortunately the court struck down most of its provisions. Now the DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents Arrivals) and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) rules promoted by President Obama had been blocked by the case of US v Texas. The case is actually going to the Supreme Court this week. We all hope that the Supreme Court will reverse the lower court of blocking the executive power of the President. But the truth it might not be that easy.
Instead of attacking the causes of illegal immigration such as greedy economic policies like NAFTA, legislators and politicians are aggressively attacking the victims. So long as unequal economic policies remain in effect, illegal immigrants will continue to come to the United States. Instead of drafting harsh draconian legislation and blaming the victims of illegal immigration its time Americans understand why there are so many illegal immigrants in the United States and what can really be done to address the issue.
We need to give a chance to those who have been here for years and give them a chance to prove themselves by giving them a work permit on DAPA and extend DACA.