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News ::
FTAA: Opens borders to capital and closes them for people
09 Apr 2001
Why the flow of goods across borders has dramatically increased with NAFTA and the WTO, the flow of people has been increasingly restricted.
The FTAA is likely to have a serious adverse impact on immigrants and their political rights in the hemisphere, largely affecting those immigrating from Latin America and the Caribbean to the US and Canada. The observed effects of NAFTA on immigration and immigrants’ rights provide a basis to gauge the potential impact of the FTAA.
An effect of NAFTA has been to create conditions in Mexico which encourage migration. To conform with NAFTA, the Mexican government had to change Article XVII of the Constitution to allow privatization of collectively owned farms, ejidos. This was done to facilitate the acquisition of large amounts of agricultural lands by transnational agribusinesses. As a result, small farmers have been driven off the land, but there are no jobs for them – 65% of the Mexican population is unemployed or underemployed.
Since NAFTA, the only sector of the Mexican economy that has grown significantly has been that of the export processing, including maquiladoras. This sector has expanded from a workforce of 546,433 in 1994, to a workforce of 983,272 in April 1998. Meanwhile, small businesses have suffered – 28,000 small businesses in Mexico have closed between 1994 and 1997 because of competition from multinational coporations and their domestic partners.
Another attack on small farmers has been the trade liberalization policy, which has opened Mexico to imports of cheap, often genetically modified, US corn, subsidized by the government. Mexican corn farmers are unable to compete and are forced to leave their farms. The picture that emerges is of a Mexican economy in which livelihoods are being destroyed, particularly in the agricultural and small business sectors, driving people into unemployment and poverty, while the export-oriented economy is failing to create a sufficient number of jobs to replace the ones destroyed. The inevitable result is pressure to migrate. It is too early to detect a definite trend in increased immigration from Mexico to the US since the enactment of NAFTA. However, studies, such as Maurice Schiff’s 1995 article in Revue d’Economie du Developpement, show that such an impact is possible. Furthermore, Ruth Buchanan, in the Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, has shown that such an increase may already be occurring on sections of the border.
The US domestic political response to the potential for increased immigration has been an assault on immigrants’ rights, starting with the increased militarization of the border since January 1994. This was followed by Proposition 187 in California in November 1994, which denied education and health services to undocumented immigrants and their children. In 1996, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which made it much harder for people to immigrate, and easy for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to deport immigrants, including legal permanent residents, on almost any pretext.
The motivations for these policies include the need for corporate interests to drive a wedge between US-born workers and immigrant workers to prevent the formation of solidarity, which becomes an especially important consideration when the numbers of immigrant workers are growing. In addition, suppressing immigrants further makes them more easily exploitable by employers. It is reasonable to speculate that these policies were adopted at an accelerated pace since 1994 in anticipation of a rapid growth in immigration resulting from NAFTA, as well as WTO, IMF, and World Bank policies worldwide. By extrapolation, it is very likely that the enactment of the FTAA will lead to further erosion of the rights of immigrants, in anticipation of another large increase in immigration.
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