Editor’s note: These are excerpts from an article by Dave Ransom published in the Tribuno del Pueblo, sister publication of the People’s Tribune.
When the Trump administration launched the most recent attack on “illegal” immigrants, particularly Mexicans, it bet on the misconceptions of many Americans to make its charges believable and frightening.
After all, somebody doing something illegal is a criminal, right?
What Trump didn’t say, of course, is that U.S. immigration policy makes it almost impossible for Mexicans to migrate legally into the United States. And at the same time U.S. agribusiness has destroyed Mexican small farms and put millions of jobless people on the road.
Below we cite questions commonly asked by native-born Americans. The answers can help undermine the anti-immigrant attack and also unite the working class to which we all belong.
Why have so many Mexicans migrated to the United States?
As part of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Mexican government dropped its protective tariffs. Imported U.S. corn flooded Mexico and wiped out that country’s small farmers.
As a consequence, millions of young Mexicans left the farms and took to the road, looking for work to feed their parents and younger siblings. Many went to the maquiladoras – low-wage factories set up by foreign corporations south of the border. Many others came north, looking for whatever jobs they could find.
Why do people come illegally? Why don’t they just get in line?
What many Americans learned in school was that every country had an annual quota for migration to the United States and people could actually make an application and get in line for a visa. Now, most Mexicans cannot migrate to the United States legally, and once here they cannot get papers.
Why would anybody want to keep immigrants from Mexico “illegal?”
Keeping millions of immigrants “illegal” creates a large pool of cheap labor, living in the shadows and unable to access labor rights.
This is not so different from when Southern plantation owners used cheap slave labor before the U.S. Civil War … or when U.S. industry moved into the South after the Civil War, keeping labor cheap through legal segregation backed by vigilante violence.
Cheap slave labor and cheap segregated labor held down wages in the rest of the country, keeping the working-class poor and divided to the benefit of the wealthy and powerful.
Indeed, keeping us divided may be the fundamental benefit of “illegal” immigration to the capitalist powers today. It weakens workers in America politically as well as economically.
And that’s probably the best reason for us to educate and link arms together.