With all the talk about Arizona’s new immigration law, and the outrage by many progressives over the racial profiling aspect of it, there remains one nagging question that few have dared asked: why is illegal immigration still such a pervasive problem for the United States? Certainly Mexico was not the first country whose citizens saw fit to leave for greener pastures. Italy, Ireland, Poland and Germany sent uncounted multitudes to these shores. With few exceptions, all those immigrants came here legally and with the exception of the typical myopic backlash that greeted European immigrants of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, all were eventually assimilated into the mainstream culture; generations later their descendents have become a vital part of the American story. All except Mexico. It has remained an enigma. And not just Mexico; virtually all of Central America as well.
In an op-ed piece titled, “Reagan’s Refugees: Why Undocumented Migrants Have a Right To Work Here” Roger Hollander places the blame for the flood of illegal immigration squarely on U.S. foreign and domestic policy.
“Most U.S. citizens have little idea of the devastation wrought by NAFTA in Mexico and what the murderous civil wars that the Reagan Administration funded and supported during the 1980s have done to El Salvador and Guatemala. In essence, the neo-liberal economic policies of the so-called Washington consensus, including NAFTA, have plunged Mexico into an economic crisis in the countryside. More than 2 million agricultural workers have been forced off their land and have moved into urban areas that can’t absorb them. The undocumented workers from El Salvador and Guatemala, the two other main sources of migration into the U.S., are fleeing dysfunctional and oppressive social and economic systems maintained by U.S. military power and funding since Ronald Reagan and CIA director William Casey turned these small countries into demonstration projects for Cold War power.”
In short we gutted Latin America to such an extent that millions of impoverished people risked everything, even their very lives, to flee the oppression – both economic and political – just to have a chance at the life they were denied in their own countries. And that is why the United States has and will continue to have an illegal immigration problem. Any solution that does not deal with the carnage we inflicted on that region will ultimately fail. Hollander goes on to explain further,
“The basic problem is that Mexican tariffs were lowered under NAFTA so that inexpensive corn and other agricultural products from U.S. agribusiness flooded Mexico and drove out up to 2.3 million small and medium-sized farmers. The idea was that they would move to the cities and provide the labor for new, more advanced industries to export.
“The only problem is that such a plan depended on Mexico’s GDP growing at 6 percent to 7 percent — almost two-thirds of the rate of China’s growth. In fact, Mexico’s growth has stagnated under NAFTA at half the expected rate. Besides, it isn’t clear what these ‘new advanced industries’ were supposed to be, except for the sweatshops along the U.S. border. Cheap labor is not what economists would call ‘a competitive advantage,’ because there’s always another country with even cheaper labor to exploit.”
According to Hollander, for every one million new workers Mexico adds to its labor force, it creates only half a million jobs. This means that every year, half a million Mexicans must either enter what he calls “the informal economy” of low-wage work without benefits, the criminal and black market economy, or leave the country. Ironically, it is the drug cartel, estimated at two percent of GDP that has become Mexico’s new export-oriented industry. In deed the incessant demand for drugs here in the States and the ever-increasing poverty in Mexico have proven to be a deadly combination. And there is no end in sight.
El Salvador and Guatemala are hardly walks in the park. “In El Salvador, there’s a separate problem stemming from the violence of the Reagan wars of the 1980s — and now compounded by the recent deportation of U.S. gang members back to El Salvador. Originally, they entered the U.S. as children with their undocumented parents, learned their gang skills in the U.S. and then once arrested, were deported back to El Salvador. As a result there’s been an explosion of gang violence in El Salvador. As for Guatemala, assassinations of community leaders opposing destructive mining operations are common. At another point, a well-known TV reporter was gunned down in broad daylight in the capital.”
Hollander believes the U.S. will never solve its illegal immigration problem by enforcement alone. “The ‘push’ out of these countries has become much greater than the ‘pull’ of a better economy and growing social networks of migrants now living in the U.S.” No law, immoral or otherwise, no wall regardless of height, and no threat of violence can deter people who have nothing left to lose.
The Arizona immigration law shows how depraved and insensitive we have become to basic moral values and how flippant we have become towards Constitutional law, but it also reveals a staggering ignorance of our own history and how that history has helped devastate a whole region.
British playwright Harold Pinter once wrote about the relationship of truth and lies to political power. “To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.”
The problem with feeding on that many lies is that it sometimes leads to indigestion. Well don’t look know but I see a massive case of Montezuma’s Revenge coming on. Payback is always a bitch.