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Bob Noel, Published December 11 2011

Immigration policies, NAFTA benefit few, devastate many

Recently, while speaking to a crowd of supporters in Tennessee, former Republican candidate Herman Cain “jokingly” proposed an electrified fence at the border, with a sign on the other side saying, “It will kill you.” The comment drew applause and laughter. Later, Newt Gingrich, another Republican presidential candidate, challenged his party, inserting logic and humanity into the debate when he pointed out that our current immigration policy is separating mothers and fathers from their children. Other candidates, namely Mitt Romney, quickly smelled blood and didn’t hesitate to attack Gingrich. Newt is simply pointing out the current reality for many undocumented families.

During President Barack Obama’s tenure, this country has cleanly streamlined racial profiling against Latinos into a nicely packaged program called “Safe Communities,” making it easier for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to reach their goal of the deportation of 400,000 immigrants per year. Cain appeals to the anti-immigration mobs. Obama’s flawed and inhumane approach to enforcing the laws and the popular Romney-like responses to Gingrich are an illustration of a xenophobic frenzy that has captured this country and driven this debate.

The great irony is that, in many ways, this is a mess that we helped create. Since NAFTA, the poor have become poorer, and the rich have become wealthier in Mexico. This is a simple fact. NAFTA has benefited a few and devastated many across the border. And as long as we allow and indirectly demand that the poor subsidize our lifestyles through meager factory wages, as long as we demand policies that allow us to dump subsidized commodities on a Mexican market preventing Mexican farmers from competing, and as long as American corporations have a more important role and voice shaping Mexican economic policy than the citizens of Mexico, the immigration “issue” will not go away.

It’s ironic that we call NAFTA “free” trade. The last I checked, human labor is a large part of a functioning economy, and yet that is the one aspect of this trade agreement that seems to be left out. If I can make money in Mexico off of my corn, why can’t a Mexican laborer make money here working in my field, factory or office?