The recent ferment on immigration policy has been so narrow that it has excluded the real issue: family-sustaining wages for workers both north and south of the border. The role of the North American Free Trade Agreement and misnamed 'free trade' has been scarcely mentioned in the increasingly bitter debate over the fate of America's 11 to 12 million illegal aliens.
NAFTA was sold to the American public as the magic formula that would improve the American economy at the same time it would raise up the impoverished Mexican economy. The time has come to look at the failures of this type of trade agreement before we engage in more and lower the economic prospects of all workers affected.
While there has been some media coverage of NAFTA's ruinous impact on US industrial communities, there has been even less media attention paid to its catastrophic effects in Mexico:
* NAFTA, by permitting heavily-subsidized US corn and other agri-business products to compete with small Mexican farmers, has driven the Mexican farmer off the land due to low-priced imports of US corn and other agricultural products. Some 2 million Mexicans have been forced out of agriculture, and many of those that remain are living in desperate poverty. These people are among those that cross the border to feed their families. (Meanwhile, corn-based tortilla prices climbed by 50%. No wonder many so Mexican peasants have called NAFTA their 'death warrant.' * NAFTA's service-sector rules allowed big firms like Wal-Mart to enter the Mexican market and, selling low-priced goods made by ultra-cheap labor in China, to displace locally-based shoe, toy, and candy firms. An estimated 28,000 small and medium-sized Mexican businesses have been eliminated. * Wages along the Mexican border have actually been driven down by about 25% since NAFTA, reported a Carnegie Endowment study. An over-supply of workers, combined with the crushing of union organizing drives as government policy, has resulted in sweatshop pay running sweatshops along the border where wages typically run 60 cents to $1 an hour.
So rather than improving living standards, Mexican wages have actually fallen since NAFTA. The initial growth in the number of jobs has leveled off, with China's even more repressive labor system luring US firms to locate there instead.
I've previously proposed that we look at a regional guarenteed income to help contain disruptive migrations. It is silly to assume that we've seen this huge migration either because these immigrants love the US or because they are just greedy folks.
If we want a sane immigration policy, we need to look at how folks make money in an insane economy-and change the rules fundamentally.