Illegal Immigration and NAFTA

One of the largely overlooked aspects of the North American Free Trade Agreement is the fact that the failed trade pact has been the catalyst for the massive increase in illegal immigration over the past two decades or so.

An influx of highly subsidized corn flooding the Mexican market has displaced millions of rural farmers, according to McClatchy Newspapers. Prior to the implementation of NAFTA, Mexican officials claimed that factory jobs would fill the void left by disappearing work on family farms.

Mexican officials had promised that NAFTA would result in the “export of goods, not people.” That, however, has turned out to be far from reality.

Since NAFTA was signed into law, illegal immigrants in the U.S. has increased to 12 million today from 3.9 million in 1993, accounting for an overall increase of over 300 percent. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 57 percent of those entering the country illegally are from Mexico.

“The numbers of people displaced from family farming were much, much higher than the number of new wage jobs,” Jonathan Fox, an expert on rural Mexico at the University of California at Santa Cruz, told McClatchy Newspapers.

Those displaced workers are largely the result of U.S. corn exports to Mexico. Heavily subsidized American Agribusiness not only put hundreds of thousands of American family farms out of business, but also dumped billions of dollars worth of American agricultural products into the Mexican market, putting millions of peasant farmers out of business.

Between 1994 and 2001, the flood of cheap, subsidized American corn caused the price of the crop to fall 70 percent in Mexico. The drop in prices caused millions of farm jobs to disappear, with the numbers falling from 8.1 million in 1993 to 6.8 million in 2002.

Those out-of-work farmers make up the bulk of the illegal immigrants entering the U.S. each year. Unable to compete with their highly subsidized American competitors – $10 billion in 2000 alone – rural Mexican farmers have increasingly sought employment in the U.S.

Corn producing jobs – the nation’s largest cash crop – fell by over one million in the first decade of NAFTA. Additionally, another 142,000 job cultivating flowers and fruit have disappeared.

In rural areas, the percentage of the population working in the agricultural sector fell from 44 percent in the early 1990s to just 28 percent at the beginning of the decade.

Even those that did not earn livings on farms were likely to be affected by NAFTA. Since the trade pact was implemented, 30,000 small and medium-sized businesses have permanently closed their doors.

“It’s been roughly a tripling, quadrupling, quintupling of U.S. corn exports to Mexico, depending on the year,” Timothy A. Wise, the director of research and policy at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University in Medford, Mass, told McClatchy Newspapers. “Is that a river? Yeah, that’s a lot of corn.”

The end result has been a flood of illegal immigration into the U.S. With jobs drying up in Mexico, millions have illegally crossed the border seeking work. If it were not for NAFTA, illegal immigration would not be such a problem.

“The great failure of this supposition is that there wasn’t economic growth that would absorb these people,” Victor Suarez, the executive director of the National Association of Rural Producers, told McClatchy. “The result has left rural areas increasingly populated by the elderly and women.”

“In Chiapas, there was hardly any migration before NAFTA,” Suarez said, referring to Mexico’s southernmost state. “Farm laborers were even brought in from Guatemala. Now, more than 50,000 rural people from Chiapas go each year to the United States.”

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