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The Globalizing Economy and the Divisive Immigration Debate


Current arguments about immigration point the finger of blame at the Mexican undocumented who are in the U.S. "sin papeles" (without legal status).   Of course Mexicans have been coming north since thirteen little British colonies, mostly on the Eastern seaboard, claimed their independent status as a "free country" after a bloody war for independence.    At this time, the main gateway used today by Mexican migrants belonged to Mexico and to the indigenous populations of the mostly hot desert areas that encompass today's Southwestern states: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

As the U.S.A. expanded, absorbed new territories and developed, Mexicans and Mexican Americas frequently became a handy supply for hard labor.   This past use of Mexican labor not only laid a foundation for employers, but it also established a tradition among the working poor of seeing the U.S.  and job opportunities in "El Norte" as one answer to the unemployment and social problems their own government has not addressed. 

It is a historic fact that U.S. and Mexican public policy have intentionally furthered immigration and the use of Mexican labor by U.S. employers.  

The historical foundation for immigration was solidified with the passage of NAFTA in 1994. 

Supporters of NAFTA argued that it would bring more jobs to Mexico and slow immigration. 

But the proliferation of U.S. factories ("maquiladoras) only furthered the atmosphere for exploitation of workers on the Mexican side of the border, did not deliver on increased prosperity for the migrant laborer,  and drove more Mexicans to seek a living wage north of the border. 


As the nation’s politicians look today for ways to “fix the immigration problem,” it is important to understand the history, politics, and economics behind the process.  Too many ignore the fact that nearly everyone in this country today can trace her or his genealogical roots to migration from Europe or Asia.  The only people whose roots have always been on the land protected today by anti-immigration "patriots" are the Native-American indigenous populations. 

Not unlike many times in the past U.S. corporations and American households still profit off of the labor of working class Mexicans who want a job that will allow them to feed, clothe, and educate their children.  

The immigrant who arrives in the U.S. often made a stop at the border in a factory opened under NAFTA, one that did not pay and exposed the worker to toxic conditions.  Possibly the flow of illegal immigration would stop at the doorstep of the U.S. if the wages and working conditions in the maquiladora jobs of U.S. companies at the border would actually support a family!   

We need a new discourse on the immigration  debate.

We need to explore more of the how and the why Mexicans have historically come and why they continue to believe that there is hope for a better life by crossing "illegally" into this country.

Current immigration reform rhetoric ignores too much the role that globalization plays in pushing people out of Mexico and into the United States.  Changes in the overall Mexican economy initiated in the last two decades played favorites between foreign corporate investors, and their financial partners among the Mexican elite, and the Mexican worker citizen.  Trade agreements were designed to induce greater foreign investment along the lines of historic programs like the Border Industrialization Program.  

These trade programs have usually had the focus of supporting corporate economic growth, which often includes outsourcing and removal of jobs from the U.S.  The attraction for the employer is being able to avoid dealing with organized labor.  And the reduction of costs -- Mexican labor is just cheaper.  

The same spirit motivated the signing of NAFTA except that the opposition by labor was drowned out and the political rhetoric promising that NAFTA would provide a solution to the problems of illegal immigration from the Southwest won out.   NAFTA could not work, however, without the "neoliberalism" economics being adopted by Mexico or the deregulatory economics philosophy in the U.S. driving the constant push to liberalize trade policies that have induced outsourcing to poorer countries and loss of jobs at home.   

In each of those countries the adoption of  "free trade" instead of "fair trade" policies, the opening of new factories, the recruitment of cheap labor and the migration by farmers to the cities in search of work describe the realities of globalization.   In Mexico agricultural lands have been leased out to multinational agricultural ventures or to maquiladora associations.  The loss of lands induced migration for work especially from Southern Mexico as far as the northern border. Globalization initiates dramatic social and economic change in the country welcoming the foreign investor, sometimes to the benefit of the local population but sometimes leading to grave humanitarian consequences.  Ciudad Juarez, for example, is changed forever and has become a gateway not only to NAFTA trade.  It is also a haven for drug trafficking and systemic violence against women and girls as demonstrated by the unsolved "maquiladora murders."  


While undocumented migration is certainly a problem for the U.S., so is the interdependent economic relationship patterns between U.S. and Mexico that have exacerbated the systemic problems by that government to employ its lower working classe, and therefore to minimize or more drastically reduce the incentive of the desperate to cross the border and risk their lives in order to survive.


“Families Forcibly Segregated; The Human and Economic Toll Accompanying Forcible Detention for Immigration Violations and the Argument for a More Holistic Approach to Reform” by Joseph Hall, J.D. Candidate, Northern Illinois University  in Word


Introduction:  “My mother told me go the border.  You will not find work here [in Toluca]. I came to the border to work in the maquiladoras.” (Amparo, maquiladora worker, mother of two, fired for organizing for justice in the NAFTA factories of Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico.)

Thousands of the workers in the factories at the U.S.-Mexico border moved from the southern Mexican interior, from places like Veracruz, Puebla, Mexico City, etc.   Some have come with their families, many travel alone.  In the patterns of global migration produced by the intense patterns of globalization of the world's economies, the women’s stories are often different from those of migrant men.  Whether the difference is in pay (usually lower) or conditions (often including sexual harassment) the feminization of migration is a story about how gendered cultures affect the traveler’s experience, whether filled with hope for a better future, or the pain of disorienting loss from having to separate from one’s past and deal with the new conditions in a foreign land. 

Bibliography in Word


Short Topics, Comments, Articles


Placing the focus of immigration regulation on the employer instead of the worker

NAFTA’s Effect on Immigration-Free Trade

Migrants, Border Crossings and Human Rights