Immigration has been a hot topic over the last couple years within the US, with the Obama Administration deporting the most amount of undocumented immigrants in history, Trump consistently making ignorant remarks about immigration on his campaign trail, to Pope Francis’ immigration remarks last week in Philadelphia.
But the thing that never seems to be discussed in mainstream media about immigration and unauthorized migrants is the role that the US and our imperialist history play. Roque Planas wrote about several different ways in which US imperialism has caused Latinx Immigration to the US to increase, talking about the numerous times the US has colonized, invaded, occupied, and overthrown governments in Central and South America. (Like how the US took over half of Mexico in 1848 after the Mexican-American War and the border literally crossed over numerous people of Mexican origin.) As Planas wrote:
…the truth is that the US government has historically made life in Latin America harder by overthrowing democratically elected governments, financing atrocities, and pushing trade policies that undermine Latin American industries, dealing blows to local economies.
Plus, the application of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the early 1990s helped to devastate local economies in Central and South American countries. With NAFTA, markets in Mexico were flooded with cheap meat, vegetables, and other imports from the US, which caused many small farms in Mexico to go out of business and many farm workers to leave the countryside for big cities or even the US. David Bacon wrote about how US policies (like NAFTA) helped fuel migration from Mexico to the US and wrote in particular that:
NAFTA lifted the barriers on Smithfield’s [a US pork slaughterhouse] ability to import feed. This gave it an enormous advantage over Mexican producers, as US corn, heavily subsidized by US farm bills, was much cheaper. “After NAFTA,” says Timothy Wise, of the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University, US corn “was priced 19 percent below the cost of production.”
Mexico imported 30,000 tons of pork in 1995, the year after NAFTA took effect. By 2010 pork imports, almost all from the United States, had grown more than twenty-five times, to 811,000 tons. As a result, pork prices received by Mexican producers dropped 56 percent. US pork exports are dominated by the largest companies. Wise estimates that Smithfield’s share of this export market is significantly greater than its 27 percent share of US production.
Basically, NAFTA and other policies have allowed the US to export extra farm productions to countries like Mexico. And because many farm productions (like corn) in the US are heavily subsidized by the government, the food and imports are cheaper than what’s being made in Mexico. The cheaper availability of US food has caused so many farmers in Mexico to lose their farms and sources of incomes, which has in turn caused poverty.
It’s so important in discussions about immigration within the US to remember the ways in which we as a country have participated in making things worse in other countries. And it’s also important to remember that humans are not illegal and that the terminology of “illegal immigrants/aliens” can be dehumanizing and criminalizing.