Arizona’s recent passage of a new law that enables police officers to act as immigration control agents has sparked racially charged activism and debate around the country about who has the right to exist on this land. However, despite arguments over the constitutionality or cost-benefits of the law, very little has been said about the root causes of human migration. If the proponents of this bill truly want to halt undocumented immigration, it will not be through a law criminalizing movement; they need to critically examine the effects of foreign policy, particularly the economic policies between the United States and Mexico that leave many Mexicans no better option than to make the dangerous trek into the American Southwest.
Recent global adherence to free-market capitalism has not led to the prosperity of all people, as promised. In fact, the opposite has occurred–in countries with weaker economies, the dismantling of borders and opening of markets to foreign investment and ownership by way of lowered or absent tariffs effectively killed domestic businesses which cannot compete with large multinational corporations.
Mexican farmers who are unable to offer prices lower than American and Canadian agro-corporations are forced out of agriculture and aren’t able to move to another sector. Mexican peasants and working class, increasingly unemployed as foreign industry’s advantageous position outcompetes domestic industry, are forced to contribute to the plight of their countrymen as they buy the cheaper, foreign produced products and foodstuffs. In Mexico, where there is now little opportunity for work or sustainable wages, those negatively affected by free-market economics move into the ranks of the permanently unemployed, many times in rapidly urbanizing areas, or to the migratory life of a seasonal worker. Or they attempt the move to America where there exists some semblance of an opportunity to carve out a life for themselves.
Despite Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s assessment of the Arizona bill, which he says will “open the door to racial discrimination,” he has not addressed the conditions or unequal trade agreements like NAFTA that leave Mexican citizens little choice but to emigrate. Mexican immigration to the U.S. would seriously halt if opportunity within their homeland existed for impoverished people, but under the present conditions, the development of a viable Mexican economic infrastructure is hampered by competition with the U.S. and Canada as established by free-market economics and structural adjustment policies. Both the U.S. and Canada could work to dismantle free-market agreements like NAFTA, but why would they if they benefit from the terms of the agreement? The daily comforts and low prices American and Canadian citizens enjoy come at a heavy price – one that is implicitly Third World, and in this case Mexican.
If we seek a considerate response to immigration, we as United States citizens need to look at the effects of our actions on people around the world. We cannot allow jingoistic, anti-immigrant Americans to monopolize the debate about immigration around “protecting what is ours” or “keeping this an English-speaking country.” I don’t feel most Mexicans are enthusiastic about leaving their families and native homeland to travel to a country where they will experience language barriers, social segregation, and in most cases little job security and illegally low wages. It is not acceptable to turn a blind eye to the plight of these courageous people because they’re willing to work for cheap; that’s monstrously inhumane and casts Mexicans as more important as workers than they are as human beings.
What is necessary is a disavowal of privilege from First World nations to dictate the terms of other nation’s economies. When we can begin to identify as human beings–and not along borders of socially constructed nationalities–we can begin to acknowledge that we are all members of the human race deserved of equal treatment and opportunity, regardless of our country of origin.
We need to critically examine the effects of free-market economic policies disseminated by the U.S. abroad and understand that all of us, through our purchasing power and democratic right to demand action by our government, are part of the process contributing to undocumented immigration.