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ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, NOT SOLDIERS AND WALLS, WILL STEM IMMIGRANT SURGE

By       Message Randolph T. Holhut     Permalink
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DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- We know President Bush's plan to send National Guardsmen to help the Border Patrol keep Mexicans out of the United States is a transparent political ploy.
We know despite all the assurances by the Bush administration, sending 6,000 Guardsmen to the Mexican border will put an even greater strain on a military force already stretched past the breaking point.
We know that Bush underfunded the Border Patrol for years and only started to pay attention to immigration when it became clear that this was a good issue with his conservative base.
We know all this, but like every other insanely stupid policy idea floated by the Bush administration, political concerns and not logic are driving decision making.
The solution to making the U.S.-Mexico border less porous is not building a wall to separate the two nations, with more agents and soldiers to keep people out, Nor is criminalizing immigrants, most of whom are trying to seek a better life for themselves and their families, a solution
No, the solution would be to do something about the economic conditions that are prompting millions of Mexicans and Central Americans to flee their countries.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), enacted in 1994, was supposed to bring prosperity to Mexico, as well as the United States. The prosperity that was promised did not come to either nation.
What NAFTA did to the American economy is well documented. What it did to Mexico has received much less media attention, but if you want to know why so many people are risking their lives to come to the United States, these statistics offer an explanation.
-- NAFTA permitted U.S. agribusinesses to undercut Mexican farmers by allowing the United States to sell corn and other agricultural products at a lower cost than Mexican farms can produce them. As a result, more than 2 million Mexican farmers have been forced out of agriculture in the past decade, and the ones that still farm live in desperate poverty.
-- NAFTA allowed the big box stores such as Wal-Mart to enter the Mexican market. Wal-Mart, which mostly sells goods made by low-wage workers in China, put more than 28,000 small and medium-sized Mexican businesses out of business over the past decade.
-- Wages for Mexican workers have fallen by about 25 percent in the past decade. In the "maquiladoras," the American-owned sweatshops, the hourly pay runs between 60 cents and $1 an hour, a salary that is not enough to live on even at a subsistence level.
And now the ruinous effects of NAFTA are being imposed on Central America. The Central American Free Trade Agreement, enacted last year, means a whole new pool of cheap labor to be exploited. Today, 40 percent of Central America's workers earn less than $2 a day
In 1995, there were 2.5 million undocumented Mexicans in the United States. Another 8 million have crossed the border since then. And millions more will flee in the coming years as the economies of our neighbors to the south are driven further into poverty.
Instead of writing trade deals that exploit Mexico and Central America, NAFTA and CAFTA need to be rewritten.
Neither treaty was originally designed as an economic development program. Neither treaty promotes better living standards or workers rights. Both treaties treat the region the way it has always been treated by the United States, as a place to be plundered by oligarchies and corporate interests.
Compare this approach to what happened in the European Union. Before it admitted then-poorer nations, such as Spain, Portugal and Greece, to the EU, they received massive investments in health care, education and public infrastructure. Democratic reforms and worker rights were also preconditions to entry.
Unfortunately, Bush and the current Congress have no interest in encouraging fair trade, livable wages, safe workplaces or workers' rights on either side of the border. They would rather encourage the global economy's race to the bottom and turn the world into one big maquiladora.
They cannot see that putting human needs above maximum profits will ensure improved lives on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. When Mexicans are paid a livable wage, have stable employment and can enjoy a life of hope rather than despair, there will be fewer economic refugees flooding our borders. This approach, not walls and soldiers, is what is needed.
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Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at randyholhut@yahoo.com.

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