By Laura Bolaños-Ramirez, Portland Jobs with Justice & ORFTC Intern
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is an agreement signed by the United States, Mexico, and Canada. The agreement came into force on January 1, 1994. Mexicans were told that increases in trade, forging direct investment and exports would raise income and the standards of living. It was claimed that NAFTA would be so beneficial to Mexican workers that immigration would be reduced by two-thirds by the year 2000. Research has revealed the contrary, only 10% of the population has seen higher standards of living. With millions of jobs made obsolete and destroyed by cheap imports from the United States, thousands of Mexicans were left with no choice, but to migrate to the U.S. in search of work.
Alejandro Lopez a day laborer who first migrated to the U.S. when he was 26 years old stated, “Before I migrated to the U.S. I tried to find a job in Mexico, so I went to other states and cities looking for work, but it was hard to find something that was permanent, especially in agriculture, and I had no other option rather than to migrate. I have tried to go back and establish my own little business, selling food, fresh fruits and vegetables, and dairy’s. But, people bought what they could afford with the money they had, so they choose the cheaper products that often were those imported from the United States. I’ve try four times to establish a small business in Mexico and every time I failed because people chose to buy the cheaper products, so I have no other option then to stay in the US to support my family.”
U.S. Census data shows that rather than decreasing, the number of Mexican-born people living in the United States increased by more than 80% between 1990 and 2000. Let’s have in mind that these were not people who one day all of the sudden said, “Today I am migrating to the U.S. because I feel like it. No, these are people who were forced to leave their homes and families in order to feed them and have a decent future” said Luis Chacon a migrant worker.
Ezequiel Bolaños who came to the US at age 18 and currently works as a roofer mentioned, “I had been a farmer since I was a small child, faming is a family tradition and source of living, but my parents brought me and my three younger siblings to the U.S. on December 22nd of 1999 because farming was not only no longer profitable, but couldn’t even feed the family anymore. My older cousins and some friends who were also farmers migrated right after middle school. I went back to Mexico this past August after 12 years and I found out that farming is even worse than it was. My uncle is very poor although he owns lands for farming. People are poor and cannot afford to pay for the crops, so he just stopped selling and producing crops, especially corn and beans. It was very sad to realize that no matter how much I love farming and my culture I have to stay in the U.S. in order to survive. If my father, uncles, cousins, friends, and I had our farming jobs in Mexico, migrating wouldn’t have been an option for us and for so many people that have a similar story to ours.” According to research, the U.S. subsidizes agriculture with $20 billion each year compared to $ 3.5 billion in Mexico, enabling U.S. corn to be sold at 30 percent below Mexico’s corn.
The influx of cheap subsidized grain from the U.S. to Mexico under NAFTA resulted in the killing of at least two million farming jobs. According to the opinion of Efrain a barber and a day laborer who has been migrating back and forth between Mexico and the U.S. for the past 36 year, “The United States has half of the world in modern slavery and they don’t care about the consequences as long as they produce profit, the free trade is nothing, but a political mask. The free trade agreement should not exist in poor countries because free trades hits people twice. First, it kills local businesses, and second, because it forces people to buy imported products. At the end, we are left confused, disoriented, and with no other choice but to migrate, and then when we get here, we are seen as the criminals, when the real criminals are the ones that impose the free trade agreements which, forces us to migrate, be away from our families, our homes, and or cultures.”
The testimonies of these immigrants showed that free trade agreements like NAFTA have had devastating consequences in their lives, but negotiations of trade agreements continue. The Trans-pacific Partnership (TPP) is a massive new trade and investment pact for the Pacific Rim currently being pushed by the U.S. government at the command of large corporations. The TPP will represent approximately 40 percent of the global economy. It is already the largest free trade agreement ever negotiated and it has potential to become even bigger. The TPP is modeled from smaller free trade deals like NAFTA which, as proven and supported by research has greatly contributed to global inequality and forced migration. We can only wonder how much greater the effects of the TPP would be if Congress were to enact this devastating free trade agreement. Is mass international migration the future for workers of the world?