Immigration reform needs to happen; that much is clear. However, the debate between Republicans and Democrats has not only stalled, but also been primarily driven by ideology and party identification rather than empirical evidence. A much more effective and rational solution would be to seriously look at what forces are driving undocumented immigrants into the United States — and the North American Free Trade Agreement is certainly one of those forces.
After the removal of tariffs in Mexico, American agribusiness flooded the domestic market with far cheaper products, forcing Mexican farmers and local companies out of business; it is estimated that at least 1.5 million Mexican workers were forced out of jobs in the agricultural industry alone. This trend is not limited to farmers and laborers, as tens of thousands of Mexican businesses have gone belly-up since the passage of NAFTA. These disenfranchised Mexican workers had few options in their own country, except for the exploitative maquiladora system: factories run by foreign companies and operating under very minimal regulation. Workers are exposed to dangerous conditions and chemicals, work excessively long hours and are paid criminally low wages. Many of these Mexican laborers thus naturally sought a better life in the United States.
Those who managed to retain farmland were not much better off, and continue to struggle to compete against the large internationals that now have far less regulation. Indeed, farmers in Mexico are estimated to be making up to 70 percent less profit than they were before the imposition of NAFTA. Today, it is estimated that a farm laborer earns one-third of what he did before NAFTA.
We support the repeal of NAFTA. It is hypocritical of the United States to enact a trade agreement that forces millions of Mexicans out of a job or into poorer conditions, and then complain when there is an increased inflow of undocumented immigrants. And indeed, that influx has grown substantially, from 4 million at the time of NAFTA’s passage to 12 million today. If we’re serious about real immigration reform, there is a simpler solution than resorting to the typical dichotomous Republican-Democrat debate. We need to seriously reexamine NAFTA and strongly consider its repeal, and take a critical look at our foreign policies that have dramatic impacts on immigrant flows.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Matt Brundage ’15 and Rachel Occhiogrosso ’14, and its members, Hannah Loewentheil ’14 and Thomas Nath ’16. Send comments to [email protected]