NAFTA: The US role in creating immigration

More than 6,000 sets of remains have been found in the desert since 1994, the year the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect.NAFTA benefited the owners and the corporations – and harmed the workers – of every nation that signed it. It made Monsanto’s corporate corn – one of the most heavily subsidized crops in the world – cheaper to sell than it is to grow in Mexico.Almost overnight, NAFTA turned Mexico into a corn-importing nation for the first time in its history. NAFTA decimated family farms and villages. It threw tens of thousands of traditional working families and their communities deeper and more desperately into rural poverty.

The role of the US in creating the economic conditions that compel immigration is almost never mentioned. The corporations profit from the manipulation of labor: they do not pay a living wage to workers in Mexico or to migrants in the US. They benefit from cheap labor on both sides of the border.

As a result of the NAFTA treaty, entire communities in Mexico have been pushed to the brink of disaster. Entire villages will often pool their money to raise the $5,000 – $10,000 it takes to bribe the coyotes into smuggling someone – often a young person – across the border. The community’s hope is that they will find a job in America; they will work hard, live cheaply, and send remittances back to sustain the village and their families.

The vast majority of the money sent back to Mexico goes to buy food:

“Migrants’ remittances—payments sent by foreign-born workers back to their home country—have become a significant source of monetary inflows for many countries.

In 2009, such remittances from the United States to other countries totaled more than $48 billion, nearly 30 percent more in inflation-adjusted terms than they were in 2000. People in Mexico receive more of the remittances sent from the United States than do residents of any other country. . . .

“In surveys of people in the United States who remitted money to Mexico, for example, 70 percent reported that consumption was the only purpose, 3 percent reported that asset accumulation was the only purpose, and 26 percent said that both consumption and asset accumulation were reasons for remitting.”

– US Congressional Budget Office: Migrants’ Remittances and Related Economic Flows, February 24, 2011, available at http://www.cbo.gov/publication/22012

Having stolen their livelihoods, we have militarized our border with Mexico and built a wall to keep migrants out. The wall drives NAFTA’s economic refugees into the most desolate and dangerous part of the desert: the Tohono O’odham reservation where the little party with an NPR reporter was searching.

According to Public Citizen, a nonprofit organization that does not participate in partisan political activities or endorse any candidates for elected office (and accepts no government or corporate money, relying solely on foundation grants, publication sales, and support from their 100,000 members):

NAFTA was a radical experiment – never before had a merger of three nations with such radically different levels of development been attempted. Plus, until NAFTA, “trade” agreements only dealt with cutting tariffs and lifting quotas to set the terms of trade in goods between countries.

But NAFTA contained 900 pages of one-size-fits-all rules to which each nation was required to conform all of its domestic laws – regardless of whether voters and their democratically-elected representatives had previously rejected the very same policies in Congress, state legislatures or city councils.

NAFTA requires limits on the safety and inspection of meat sold in our grocery stores; new patent rules that raised medicine prices; constraints on your local government’s ability to zone against sprawl or toxic industries; and elimination of preferences for spending your tax dollars on U.S.-made products or locally-grown food.

In fact, calling NAFTA a “trade” agreement is misleading, NAFTA is really an investment agreement.

Its core provisions grant foreign investors a remarkable set of new rights and privileges that promote relocation abroad of factories and jobs and the privatization and deregulation of essential services, such as water, energy and health care.

Read more on NAFTA’s history and effects.

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