LatinaLista — What debate, strike that, bad word. What arguing on immigration reform has shown is that no one really cares about treating the cause of the exodus from Mexico and other Latin American countries but would rather talk only about the symptoms.
The symptoms being mass migration from south of the border with little regard for immigration law, borders, or personal safety.
Because this country has always only dealt with the symptoms of the problem, it's not surprising that we are faced yet again with what to do with a massive population that legally does not belong here but is emotionally rooted here.
It's time to realistically look at the cause and apply a collective effort to remedy it, or there will be no getting off the Immigration Merry-Go-Round.
In an excellent article at the Americas Program, Center for International Policy (CIP), the author sums up the reason for our immigration debacle: The North American Free Trade Agreement, otherwise known as NAFTA.
In the early 90s, when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was still but a gleam in the eye of Presidents Carlos Salinas de Gortari and George Bush Sr., the atmosphere in Mexican political and business circles was positively euphoric. It was a time of major structural reforms in Mexico, and NAFTA was to be the crowning glory of Mexico's modernization, its ticket into the First World. Proponents predicted that the agreement would be a win-win dealâ€”consumers would get cheaper food, producers would become more efficient, and immigration would decrease as the developing economy of Mexico converged with the world's economic superpower to the North.
Fourteen years later, we see nearly the opposite. As trade between the two countries has grown, so have the huge gaps in how people live. Following NAFTA the Mexican economy went into the tailspin now known as the "tequila crisis" when its currency devalued as a result of capital flight. Years later, growth has still been much lower than expected, averaging around 2% and only 1% per capita.
Even according to NAFTA apologist the World Bank, this growth "has been insufficiently high for per capita income levels in the Mexican economy to converge with those of its NAFTA partners ... From this relative perspective, there has been no real progress over the last 15 years.
We have only to see evidence of this in the faces of the undocumented immigrants who come here. The majority come from rural areas that depended on farming for their livelihoods. Others are professionals like doctors and teachers who didn't get the jobs they expected after graduating from school because of the fierce competition for too few of those highly coveted jobs, or if they did get them, found that their salaries could never come close to paying off the loans and debt they incurred while training for those positions.
So, they all come to the United States not ashamed to wash dishes, mop floors, lay asphalt, do whatever to earn the money that they would like to earn back home but can't.
Since NAFTA, the Mexican economy rests on four pillars: the informal economy, non-renewable resources (oil and gas), remittances from migrants in the United States, and drug trafficking. To call that a shaky foundation would be an understatement.
So what is to be done?
To say it's Mexico's and Latin America's problems conveniently ignores the United States' role in all this.
Today, the United States has to share some responsibility for the poverty, unemployment, and out-migration in Mexico. Consider the following:
* When NAFTA was applied, the United States offered no compensation or sector transition funds despite the huge gap between the two economies.
* The U.S. government has given Mexico an average of only $40 million dollars in aid annually over recent years, while U.S. companies have reaped record profits, partly from their new Mexico operations and cheap illegal Mexican migrant labor in the United States.
* Mechanisms to assure that U.S. companies pay living wages and provide decent working conditions are practically non-existent, and NAFTA prohibits performance requirements that would assure more links between foreign companies' operations and the Mexican economy.
Whether it's US companies, US exports or US labor force, the bottom line is that the trail for today's mass migration doesn't just lead to our front door â€” it's entered our homes.
It's time to devise a new plan that creates greater economic equality among neighbor countries or we'll be stuck on the merry-go-round, too dizzy to see clearly anymore.