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NAFTA- The Cause of Immigration

NAFTA- The Cause of Immigration

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Published by: jamesnw on Dec 08, 2007
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02/06/2011

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Immigration exploded into the forefront of national debate in early 2006, bringingwith it calls for immigration reform, massive marches across the country, and a lotof tension between immigrant and resident communities. The main focus was onMexican immigrants, who either were "stealing" American jobs or filling jobs noone else wanted, depending on who was asked.In order to better understand why Mexicans came to the U.S. in the first place, Itraveled to a rural part of Mexico in August of 2006. This area, Apan, in the state of Hidalgo, sends - by the estimate of the City Counselor Marco de la Peña - up to2,000 people each year to the United States, many of them to Indiana. I began torealize that a lot of immigration from Mexico to the United States is the result of economic implications of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).NAFTA has not met its originally stated goals, and while it has created some wealthon both sides of the border, this increased wealth actually leads to increasedimmigration. Mexico and the United States need to develop a guest worker programto allow people to move more freely across the border in order to balance themovementof trade and goods across the border.NAFTA, enacted in 1994, was the culmination of several years of talks betweenCanada, the United States, and Mexico. The agreement laid out a plan to improve"virtually all aspects of doing business within North America." The agreementfocuses on ending tariffs, expanding copyright protection, and encouraging cross-border investment. ("Welcome to ONIA"). I will be focusing on the implications of the agreement on the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico, as Canada has notbeen a major factor in immigration.Immigration to the United States from Mexico is not a new phenomenon, but ratherhas been happening for over 100 years, and has not always been the result of anactual move by the Mexicans. "The first Mexicans to become part of the UnitedStates never crossed any border. Instead, the border crossed them." (Immigration...Mexican
 
) The Mexican-American war resulted in most of what is now thesouthwest United States being taken by the U.S., meaning all the Mexicans livingthere became U.S. residents. From 1910-1930, immigration from Mexico increaseddrastically due to a poor economy in Mexico, followed by a period of intolerancedirected towards Mexican immigrants. When the U.S. entered World War II, manyU.S. workers were involved in the war effort, so Mexicans flocked to farms to fillthe void there. When the war was over, the immigrants were no longer needed, andexperienced a lot of racism towards them. (Immigration... Mexican
 
) In other words,Mexicans are welcome when the U.S. economy needs them to fill vital jobs, butwhen they are no longer seen as a vital part, they are no longer a welcome part of the communities they belong to in the U.S..Another important immigration trend to understand is that new immigrants to theUnited States - with the exception of the African slaves - are not accepted with openarms. The previous immigrants, once they have assimilated into the culture, claim
 
that the country does not have room for more people. (Sassen 31) An example of this phenomenon is evident in Senator Rick Santorum's campaign advertisement,"Candles,"which starts with a statement of Santorum's immigrant roots. It thenargues that immigrants today are different, and should not be allowed in as easily.Other politicians are also making a big deal about immigration, and the public isreacting. From January 1 to October 12, 2006, the White House released over seventhousand separate references to immigration, many of them coming from thepresident himself ("Google Search"
 
). In April of 2006, aCNN pollshowed thatalmost ninety percent of people in the U.S. saw immigration as a major electionissue, and 1 in 7 people were planning to vote solely on a candidate's stance onimmigration. Google Trends, which examines trends in searches as well as usage innews media, shows a large spike of interest in immigration in early 2006 that hascontinued to be higher than the past several years.The ideas laid out in NAFTA may have been well-intentioned, but several problemshave caused them to not work as expected. One fundamental flaw in NAFTA is howlabor is treated as a separate type of commodity than capitol, information, andservices, which are allowed to flow freely. NAFTA removes state control of thesecommodities while immigration policy is left up to each country. This creates amisbalance, allowing jobs and goods to relocate, but not allowing people to follow.(Sassen 7
 
).In 1993, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, the Mexican president projected that NAFTAwould help curb emigration from Mexico to the U.S. However, many independenteconomists think that immigration to the U.S. is a vital yet unspoken part of theMexican government's economic plan (Payne 51
 
). A Mexican will benefit theMexican economy more if they are working in the United States than if they stay athome, because of the massive amounts of money immigrants send home. In 1995,10% of Mexicans lived in the U.S., and collectively sent 2 billion dollars home toMexico(Payne 52
 
). By 2005, $18 billion was sent to families in Mexico fromimmigrants elsewhere (Musser). Antonio Muñoz, the owner of one of the two largefactories in Apan, said, "If… those people hadn't sent money to Apan, I don't knowwhat would have become of Apan. I think it would be a ghost town. There'ssomething to eat, there's something moving, and that's because of the money thatarrives here." The money sent home by immigrants is crucial to the stability of theMexican economy.An original claim by proponents of NAFTA was that it would reduce immigration.Both of the then-presidents of Mexico and the U.S., Carlos Salinas and GeorgeBush, claimed that an increase of jobs in Mexico, brought about by NAFTA, woulddecrease the desire for Mexicans to emigrate. However, as people earn more money,they are able to afford the costs of hiring a guide and obtaining fake identification.People who were not able to pay the high costs associated with immigration - oneMexican immigrant I talked to who is now living in Elkhart, Indiana, paid $4,000 toemigrate - are more likely to be able to afford it now. Rothstein observes that
 
immigrants are rarely the poorest people; they usually are educated and are lookingto go farther than they are able to in Mexico. Currently, workers in the UnitedStates, on average, get seven times as much as someone working in Mexico. As thatratio gets closer to equal, more and more Mexicans will be able to affordimmigration, until a turning point where staying in Mexico is as financiallyrewarding as emigrating. However, a U.S. government estimates the equalization of wages may take several generations. (Rothstein 65)On the northern side of the border, higher standards of living also are a pull factor,causing Mexicans to immigrate. As the U.S. economy grew in the mid-90's, so didthe desire of Americans to eat healthier. Healthier foods such as broccoli,cauliflower, and lettuce actually take more work, since their production has not yetbeen mechanized. This necessitates the use of cheap labor, found in immigrants.Studies show that as American wealth increases, so does their need for immigrantsto maintain that level of wealth. (Rothstein 70)Because of changes to the Mexican constitution and a reduction of subsidies,Mexico has moved from an agrarian society to more industrial. According to a 2003Chicago Times article by Hugh Dellios, rural areas of the country that have relied onfarming have not been helped by NAFTA, and the implications of tariffs andsubsidies being removed has been to the detriment of many small farmers. Between1993, the year before NAFTA was signed, and 2003, a third of Mexican hogproducers shut down due to a doubling of the imported pork from the United States.Mexican farmers have a hard time competing with U.S. farmers, who get $7 billionannually in federal subsidies. (Dellios 52) This will lead to a mass exodus fromfarms, likely to Mexican cities, and to the U.S., as one million Mexican peasants arepredicted to give up farming each year for the next 10 to 20 years (Rothstein 66).NAFTA has also not caused the massive investment into the Mexican economy byU.S. companies that was expected. Investment by U.S. companies in Mexicancompanies is only one percent of what is being invested into the U.S. companies.(Griswold 58). Another major provision of NAFTA was the creation of Maquiladoras, factories that are tariff-free and were supposed to provide majoremployment on both sides of the border. However, almost a quarter of theMaquiladoras that sprung up in the wake of NAFTA have shut down in the last sixyears. (Smith 70). The manufacturing jobs that were created by NAFTA do notprovide stable employment and can not promise a future of employment.NAFTA is generally held in a positive light by many for the jobs it has created andhow it has helped the economies of areas both north and south of the border.However, most of the benefits of NAFTA have gone to creating more wealth for thealready wealthy. In Mexico, twenty percent of the population holds fifty-fourpercent of the wealth, leaving less than half of the country's wealth for theremaining eighty percent. (Payne 52
 
). NAFTA also has not been proven to have anyeffect on the U.S. economy (Griswold 55), and some even say it has compoundedthe trade problems that have been plaguing the U.S. for several years (Hawkins 63).

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