Author and activist David Bacon says that it’s impossible to understand the mass exodus of Latin American workers to the United States without also understanding how U.S. trade deals destabilized their economies.
THOMAS HEDGES, TRNN PRODUCER: Last night, in his State of the Union address, President Obama laid out a list of national priorities he plans to address in the last two years of his presidency. On immigration, however, little was said, despite Obama’s recent executive action on halting deportations. BARACK OBAMA, U.S. PRESIDENT: Yes, passions still fly on immigration, but surely we can all see something of ourselves in the striving young student, and agree that no one benefits when a hardworking mom is snatched from her child, and that it’s possible to shape a law that upholds our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. HEDGES: But some experts say that Obama’s global trade policy contradicts the sympathy he expresses towards undocumented immigrants and immigrant children in the United States. David Bacon is an author and immigrant rights activist who spent over two decades as a labor organizer. He says that the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, or TPP, along with other international trade agreements, contradicts the spirit of Obama’s approach towards immigration. DAVID BACON, AUTHOR, JOURNALIST, PHOTOJOURNALIST: If he believes that the status of those people is unfair and needs adjustment, why then negotiate new trade agreements, which are simply going to produce more people in this kind of desperate situation? The impact of these agreements is that they increase poverty because basically what they do is they try to set in place a set of rules for economic relationship between U.S. and Mexico and U.S. and countries in Central America that benefits large corporations, that involves imposing conditions that are favorable to investors, but that increase poverty, for instance, low wages, for instance, high unemployment, for instance, privatization, the destruction of unions. All of these things have come along with these trade agreements. And the net effect, of course, is that it displaces people. It makes it much more difficult for people to survive. And, therefore, people do what they have to do to put food on the table for their families, which is very often to leave their countries and to migrate to those countries so that they can find work, especially the United States. HEDGES: Bacon says that it’s impossible to understand the large wave of immigration to the U.S. without understanding the North American Free Trade Agreement, also known as NAFTA, which he says is the bedrock and source of the recent influx. BACON: When NAFTA went into effect in 1994, the U.S.–there were approximately four and a half million Mexican migrants living in the U.S. Twenty years later, that number’s over 12 million Mexican migrants living here. That statistic alone tells you what the impact of the agreement was. For millions and millions of people, life in Mexico became very, very, very difficult. And the reason for that is that the treaty allowed certain things to take place which had a very brutal impact on poor people in Mexico. For instance, it allowed U.S. corporations–Archer Daniels Midland, Continental Grain Company, Cargill, to dump corn on the market in Mexico in order to take over the Mexican market at prices that we subsidize through the U.S. farm bill to the tune of billions of dollars. They took those subsidies, lowered their costs of production, dumped corn on the market in Mexico, selling it for a price that was so low that Mexican producers could not sell the corn that they were growing at that same price and pay for the costs of growing it. That meant that they had to do something in order to survive. They had to find some other means of living. So people left. For instance, rural villages in the mountains of Chiapas and Guerrero and Oaxaca in southern Mexico, they went to Mexico City looking for work. They went to the border looking for work in the maquiladoras. And they came to the United States looking for work. HEDGES: But NAFTA, Bacon notes, also led to the privatization of state-owned enterprise in Mexico that resulted in the country’s loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. BACON: A U.S. company became the owner of the Mexican railway system. That had the impact of the loss of tens of thousands of jobs of railway workers in Mexico. Well, what were those folks going to do in order to survive? In many cases, they came to the United States. The Mexican government privatized the power and light company in central Mexico in order to dissolve that company in order to set it up for privatization, so that a foreign company could eventually come in and buy it. And the way they did that was by firing 44,000 people and destroying their union. Again, where were those people going to go? And the impact of destroying that union, which had one of the best union contracts in Mexico, was to lower wages and make working conditions worse. All these things benefited U.S. corporations, benefited European corporations, benefited a wealthy elite in Mexico. But its impact on poor people in Mexico was disastrous. That was the pressure that resulted in this big increase of Mexican migrants living in the United States. HEDGES: In the coming months, we can expect a fight between the GOP and the White House when it comes to the president’s action on immigration. But on the issue of free trade, like the TPP, as well as the transatlantic partnership agreement, also known as TTIP, Bacon says there’s little chance that the real sources of poverty and immigration will be addressed. For The Real News, Thomas Hedges, Washington.
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