Looking to the Root Causes of Migration: NAFTA

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Over the last few years, over 1000 migrants have perished making the hazardous journey through the desert to make new lives in “el Norte.” Some were small coffee growers from Vera Cruz, chicken farmers from Jalisco, or vegetable growers from Guadalajara. Others were indigenous subsistence farmers from the Chiapas highlands no longer able to eek out a living. Still others were Guatemalan migrant workers who could not find work on either side of Mexico’s border and jumped on El Tren de Muerte (The Death Train) in Tapachula for the first leg of their journey, boarding alongside Salvadorans escaping decades of political upheaval and Hondurans escaping crushing poverty.

Between 6 and 7 million people have taken the arduous journey north, many within the last ten years, most of them coming from poor agriultural areas that are no longer able to support their populations. Yet, with all the debate about reforming US immigration policy and securing the borders, we have not heard one solid proposal to address the root causes of this massive migration.

The question of why so many must leave their homes and families to simply survive is rarely mentioned, but remains the missing piece in the comprehensive immigration reform puzzle.

Most people recognize that the economic conditions in Central and South America drive much of the current migration. It’s widely acknowledged that most sender nations suffer from economic inequities that leave the vast majority of their populations living in abject poverty while a small elite ruling class controls most of the wealth.

In Mexico for instance, nearly half of its 106 million people live in poverty, yet it has more billionaires than Switzerland.

But what has fostered these inequities and in fact exacerbated them over the last ten or fifteen is not widely discussed. It is this deeper understanding of the complexities of the issue that seems to be absent from much of the debate.

From the immigration hawks we hear that a mix of government corruption and an inability or unwillingness on the part of people from these countries to effect change has led to the problems in this region. Lou Dobbs tells us that a greedy Mexican government intentionally ships its poor here to avoid upheaval. Others admonish the undocumented migrants living in the US, suggesting they return home and work to fix their own countries rather than look for acceptance here.

Those supporting comprehensive reform skirt around the issue of causation, looking instead for methods to regulate and accommodate this increasing flow of migrants. Looking to change or shuffle quotas and grant temporary worker status to a large percentage of newly arriving migrants, their plans are also flawed and incomplete. They don’t address the reasons this migration is taking place.

But if we are to ever effect meaningful reform of our flawed immigration system we must start to face the tough questions and look for real solutions. We must start to look at causation and how to change the current paradigm.

This video, produced by the Teamsters Union, long-time opponents of NAFTA, looks at one of these root causes of migration.

Admittedly, this Teamster produced video, like everything that comes from the forces at play on the greater Washington stage, presents a picture painted by those with an agenda that doesn’t always coincide with the greater concerns of migrants. But with that said, it certainly raises some of the right questions …..questions we need to start to address.


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    • duke1676 on October 26, 2007 at 15:56

    at over nine minutes long, but well worth watching….check it out.

  1. Just watched the video.

    This is important stuff.

    You write that the “picture painted” by this video doesn’t “always coincide with the greater concerns of migrants.”

    Could you write a little about that, Duke, what the differences are?

    I am trying to educate myself as fast as I can about this – I see time is of the essence.  But watching the video, it seemed to me to address those concerns.  What am I missing?

    Again, thank you so much for writing.

  2. Root cause is the key.

    Solve the root cause (Mexico’s crazy assed system that keeps the poor very poor while allowing the rich to get very very rich) and the ‘problem’ is greatly reduced on our end.


    • Tigana on October 26, 2007 at 17:12

    Hasn’t NAFTA been superceded by the North American Union/NASCO/Security and Prospeity Partnership initiatives?
    Canadians are very concerned about this:

  3. to the Atlanta area, at some point we’d certainly try to do something about it more fundamental than fencing the border.

    Actually we had a sizable migration in the 30’s, and the New Deal with its array of safety net and farm & economic policy was part of the response.

    But as I see the history of the people vs. corporate power, it probably takes a depression or worse to break business resistance to the needed reforms.

    • oculus on October 26, 2007 at 19:26

    hotel in Madrid spoke English quite well, had a sign posted on the window of the cab advertising his ability to do so.  He then treated me to a rant about the African immigrants to Spain; he sd. they are ruining the country.  The Polish immigrants, on the other hand, he does not object to; they work hard. 

  4. Between 6 and 7 million people have taken the arduous journey north, many within the last ten years, most of them coming from poor agriultural (sic) areas that are no longer able to support their populations.

    the areas of the South can support their populations just fine — it’s the money economies that can’t support their populations, not with cheap grain flooding in from the North and putting the farmers out of business…

  5. but going to be said nonetheless:

    Now you have an idea what Dennis is talking about when he says he wants to withdraw from NAFTA and the WTO.

    Go Dennis!
    Choose Peace!

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