Americans Are Mostly Blind to Mexican Workers’ Plight. Will Ariz. Law Trigger Change?
More than 1,000 opponents of Arizona’s new immigration enforcement law protest outside the state capitol building on April 25, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
By Roger Bybee
Arizona’s new law requiring police to determine the status of any suspected "illegal immigrants" has triggered a massive reaction by the Latino movement and its allies, including Americans deeply troubled by the prospect of legalized racial profiling and pervasive police intrusion.
The stunning step, led by Arizona Republicans, will undoubtedly produce huge turnouts for the May 1 immigrant rights rallies across the nation as the new threat to anyone with a dark complexion reverberates across the nation.
It also carries the potential of activating at least one major section of the Democratic base, thus far de-energized and disappointed by the Obama Administration’s timidity in tackling job creation and other critical needs. "There has beenpoorer and poorer even though we create more and more wealth.
Falling industrial wages, peasants forced off the land, small businesses liquidated, growing poverty: these are direct consequences of NAFTA. This harsh suffering explains why so many desperate Mexicans — lured to the border area in the false hope that they could find decent wages and dignity in the U.S.-owned "maquiladoras" (factories along the border) — are willing to risk their lives to cross the border to provide for their families.
There were 2.5 million Mexican illegal immigrants in the U.S. in 1995; roughly 8 million have crossed the border since then. In 2005, some 400 desperate Mexicans died trying to enter the U.S.
U.S. PUBLIC’S OPPOSITION TO NAFTA STRONG
NAFTA failed to curb illegal immigration precisely because it was never designed as a genuine development program crafted to promote rising living standards, healthcare, environmental cleanup, and worker rights in Mexico. That’s because NAFTA was never more than a formula for government-sanctioned corporate plunder benefiting elites on both sides of the border.
The trade agreement allowed capital to flow freely across the border to low-wage factories and Wal-mart-type retailers, but the same standard of free access would be denied to Mexican workers.
Public opposition in the U.S. to NAFTA-style trade agreements outweighs support by a 4 to 1 margin, according to a January Pew Research poll. No wonder: roughly 1 million jobs have been lost due to NAFTA, the Economic Policy Institute reports. Poll after poll shows similarly overwhelming margins, with even college-educated and Republican voters increasing turning against "free trade."
But as long as America’s corporate and political elites are unwilling to offer Mexico anything but military aid, Mexico’s problems will fester. Similarly, thanks to the likes of Buchanan and Dobbs, many Americans citizens seem inclined to view Mexican immirants as competitors for scarce jobs rather than fellow victims of transnational corporations.
Obviously, the fight for immigrants’ rights and sensible immigration policies will be arduous in today’s poisonous political climate. But perhaps Arizona’s offensive new law will make many struggling Americans realize that illegal immigrants are not the enemy, but the result of economic policies that hurt all working people—whether they are Mexican or American citizens.