Published: Feb 19, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Feb 19, 2013 09:03 PM
On Jan. 28, the Senate Gang of 8 released its bi-partisan immigration blueprint, a day before President Obama announced a similar plan. The plan focuses on greater border security, a guest-worker program, heightened employer verification, and a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented people already in the country.
It is past time for our policy makers to re-examine this failed system. If elected officials are serious about implementing comprehensive immigration reform, they will look to the root causes driving migration. As Sen. Marcos Rubio of Florida stated, without enforcement measures we will be back in just a few years dealing with millions of new undocumented people in our country. Sen. Rubio is correct: the flow of migrants will not cease. However, border enforcement will not keep people from risking everything to get to the United States. Fair and sensible U.S. economic policies will.
In 1994, the U.S., Mexico and Canada organized the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Supposedly, increases in trade, foreign investment and exports would raise incomes and living standards. The goals were to reduce migration, create more and better jobs, and reduce prices for goods. These promises remain unfulfilled.
Last May, I traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico, on a Witness for Peace Southeast delegation to explore reasons behind migration. We met with returned migrants and migrants traveling north. We stayed in a rural community where virtually everyone aged 20 to 40 had left home to find work.
Time and again, we heard the same story: There is not enough work or food, and people must migrate to the U.S. to support their families. Those we met did not want to leave, but had no other choice.
In Oaxaca, we witnessed the impacts of U.S. and international policies. U.S.-subsidized agriculture enables American corn to be sold at prices 30 percent below Mexicos cost of production. The influx of cheap subsidized grains under NAFTA resulted in the loss of at least 2 million farming jobs. The jobs created by NAFTA to replace lost farming jobs are not sustainable. The average wage in Oaxaca is 7 pesos an hour about 50 cents. In Oaxaca, we compared food prices at a local farmers market and a large supermarket chain. At a price of 100 to 120 pesos, buying one small chicken costs 15 hours of work.
Food security is almost unattainable for many. Since 1994, the cost of the basic food basket in Mexico has risen 60 percent. Since 2001, an estimated third of manufacturing jobs created in Mexico have been lost as companies move their production orders overseas.
The number of Mexicans migrating each year to the U.S. has more than doubled. As The News and Observer reported on Jan. 29, the number of undocumented people in the U.S. grew from 8.5 million in 2000 to 12.4 million in 2007. In North Carolina, undocumented migrants increased by 53 percent from 2000 to 2011. Clearly, the promises of NAFTA have failed both Mexico and the U.S.
Our elected officials are right to address immigration as one of the most important issues facing our country. But the reality is that if people are unable to survive in their home countries, they will continue to migrate to the U.S. Slapping a Band-Aid on the symptoms will get us nowhere. If our officials are serious about tackling immigration, they will address the forces that contribute to migration in the first place. Renegotiating NAFTA is an ideal place to start.Emily Zucchino is the associate director of Witness for Peace Southeast.
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