No Border Wall for Resources, Just for People — Free Trade & Immigration

Free Trade, Immigration, & the Border WallWhether President Trump will ultimately succeed at building his border wall I do not know — but I know that, no matter how great or tall, it would surely be easier to overcome than the walls my country has already raised around its citizens’ minds. Those are built of sturdier stuff than brick & mortar and crowned by crueler things than coils of razor wire. A border wall can be broken as easily as it was raised — but a wall, built from the brick of prejudice & laid in the inflexible mortar of political ideology, can only be deconstructed with the help of the people behind them. Americans — and, by “Americans,” I mean the people from Alaska & Puerto Rico to Argentina & Chile — are not divided by the idea of a wall but by an ideological wall that has kept working class whites from understanding how US policies shape immigration by impacting neighboring economies.

Racist White Border Wall Supporters
Anti-immigrant comments on social media, directed at users of the hashtag #HereToStay

Immigration policy should, of course, be vigorously & publicly debated so the people can give informed support to the policies which seem best. What many supporters of a border wall are saying on social media, however, has no place in debate — much of it is, in fact, nothing but the public verbal abuse of immigrants & their communities. These attacks not only reveal the prejudice distorting the debate on immigration but a widespread misunderstanding of the actual issues that influence immigration.

Causes of Today’s Immigration Patterns:
0% Lack of Border Wall, 100% Non-Wall-Related Causes

The first thing to understand is that migration is a constant feature of the human species — from the times of ancient tribal societies to the industrial civilizations of 2017, people have migrated all over the planet & in every direction. People who leave their homeland are called emigrants and those who arrive in another land are called immigrants — so, if I moved to Germany, I would be emigrating from the United States but, once I got there, it would be immigration & I’d be an immigrant. The places people move between have shifted in the kaleidoscope of time but the reasons people migrate have stayed mostly the same.

For our non-industrial ancestors, the causes of migration were usually pretty straightforward — droughts, famine, disease, a river drying up, or violent invasions by feudal scumbags. Many were literally just seeking greener pastures for their ancient sheep to munch on — and all of this is basically still true in 2017. In some ways, technology has helped us deal with these regional misfortunes — more diseases are curable & faster transportation helps with food shortages, for instance — but, in other ways, globalization & the economics of industrialization has simply crafted newer, more-complicated versions of the same issues…

Toward Stability & Opportunity,
Away From 
Poverty & Violence

Simply put, “immigration” is just groups of people trying to improve or even save their lives by moving from dangerous or economically grim conditions to places that provide safety or livable wages. Many things can influence migration and some of them are fairly complex but the general direction of immigration tends to flow out of regions of instability & economic decay into areas that are more stable & prosperous.

Just as today’s technology has increased the speed of transportation & information, a country’s economic conditions can change far more rapidly than they could in the past — sometimes even overnight. Global systems, such as the international stock exchange, give major economic players, like the United States, much greater power to quickly, sometimes dramatically, influence the world economy…

How US Trade Policy Has Created
Current Patterns of Immigration

If a person believes there is a problem with American immigration, my advice would be that they ought to search for & understand the underlying causes of the situation. If, for example, the border wall’s supporters believe that too much immigration is a problem, they should look at how it began, find out what caused it, & decide which actions are likely to reverse or counteract the cause. We can find out when immigration began to increase by looking at historical data:

Border Wall or Not? Immigration History Data

As the chart shows, immigration used to largely come out of Europe but now immigration is mostly from Latin America & Asia. The number of immigrants entering the US has increased since the 1960s, at a more gradual rate — but, during the 1990s, we begin to see faster increases & frequent spikes. How about we take a look & see if anything unusual happened in the 1990s?

Free Trade in Latin America

Border Wall or Trade Policy? Graph
Here’s a close-up of 1994, when NAFTA passed, compared with US corn exports & rising immigration levels

In 1994, the United States signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (or NAFTA), which was a “free trade” agreement between Canada, Mexico, & the US, which removed tariffs & other barriers to trade, with the goal of increasing economic exchange between the countries that signed. By the year 2000, the flow of undocumented Mexican immigrants had more than doubled, surging 108% from what it was in 1993, just before NAFTA. At the same time, 2.5 million farm workers in Mexico were driven out of work as cheap US-subsidized corn flooded the Mexican market, setting the prices too low for the farmers to compete with.

Before free trade, tariffs protected Mexican corn from having to compete with the cheaper produce exported by more industrialized countries. As Mexican farmers ( who loudly opposed the deal ) had predicted, Mexican agriculture was devastated and, as the ex-farm workers flooded the labor market, wages fell along with it by a massive 2/3rds and the average cost-of-living rose 247%! Incidentally, this is also why so many manufacturers closed their factories in the US — why would they pay more for US workers, now that they can take advantage of brown folks who have just been economically sabotaged?

NAFTA & CAFTA Increased Immigration to the US

US foreign born population 300x300 - No Border Wall for Resources, Just for People -- Free Trade & ImmigrationIn the end, NAFTA succeeded at promoting trade, increasing profits, & decreasing wages, while the number of Mexican immigrants skyrocketed, documented or not. The bottom line is that, when you stop getting paid at the same time that your cost-of-living triples & wages do the opposite of trippling, your options tend to become pretty limited, to put it lightly. But sure, blame immigrants — yeah, that makes sense.

10 years after NAFTA’s success, George W. Bush signed CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, with more-or-less the same results in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, & the Dominican RepublicBush signed a separate free trade deal with Chile at the same time, then with Peru in 2007. Barack Obama continued the same failing policies in 2012, by negotiating free trade with both Panama & Colombia.

But If Our Trade Policies Are Driving Immigration

Now, if our trade policies are actively stimulating immigration to the US — which they obviously are — wouldn’t reconsidering free trade in Latin America be the most obvious & effective way to address immigration levels? Or should we keep the same policies as before but militarize our border to stop folks escaping from poverty that we continue to create to benefit our own economy, while spending money we don’t have to build a wall for thousands of miles, just to see it defeated by a bit of rope or a ladder?

White Workers & Immigrants
Oppressed by the Same Policies

Mass deportations will not bring a single job back nor will they fix the economic conditions that are driving American immigration. If the whites who now demonize undocumented immigrants understand how US trade impacts the flow of immigration, they would see that the policies that make Latin American workers into immigrants are the same ones that devastated US manufacturing & labor. Until that day comes, however, poor whites will continue to be the pitiable instruments of their own oppression & degradation — merely obedient pawns of wealthy politicians who smile as they devour the inheritance of all of our children, together — black, brown, & white, alike. 

In solidarity,
John Laurits

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Brilliant article, John. You hit a very big nail on the head here, and very exactly and succinctly illustrate how and why and by whom this barbarous situation has come about. As a footnote, it can be said that the emigration-immigration question has been building for decades, ever since the IMF and World Bank began ruining economies in the early 1970s, not only in the rest of America but around the world, with the imposition of debt, through threats and corruption, on countries whose peoples have been enslaved by “austerity measures” – really a program to dismantle all state institutions which serve the needs of the population –… Read more »

Correction: Michel Chossudovsky, not Chussodovsky. Pardon the dyslexia.

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michael blyskal

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