The massive growth in immigration pressures from Mexico in the 1990s was not a failure of NAFTA, but an inevitable consequence. The way we’ll know that CAFTA is promoting economic development in Central America and the Dominican Republic (the scope of the treaty) will be when we see the same increase in immigration pressures. Counterintuitive as it might seem, economic development, especially agricultural modernization, always sets people on the move, by consolidating small farms into larger, more productive operations. These excess farmers then move to cities, where they get manufacturing or service-sector jobs.
But the fact that development cuts peasants loose from the land and compels them to move to cities doesn’t tell us whose cities they’re moving to. Immigration pressure, after all, is not the same as actual immigration. The problem with NAFTA was not that it promoted trade between the United States and Mexico but that neither country did anything meaningful to make sure that the excess Mexican peasantry moved to Mexico’s cities instead of ours. And CAFTA might actually create proportionately greater immigration pressures, because most of the agreement’s impact will be to make our exports more competitive there, with some 80 percent of imports from the CAFTA countries already entering our country duty-free.
If there is one lesson to be learned from NAFTA it is that free-trade agreements must be accompanied by muscular immigration controls, especially if they are reached with countries that are nearby or already send a lot of immigrants here. If the experience of NAFTA is repeated, and the immigration pressures unleashed by CAFTA are allowed to flood into the United States, the case for future free-trade agreements will be undermined.
The equivalency between trade and immigration is false. Immigrants are people, after all, not just labor inputs. As Henry Simons, a free-market pioneer at the University of Chicago, wrote in 1948: “To insist that a free-trade program is logically or practically incomplete without free migration is either disingenuous or stupid. Free trade may and should raise living standards everywhere . . . Free immigration would level standards, perhaps without raising them anywhere.”
The way forward, then, is clear: More trade, less immigration.
The brilliance of conservative thinking in its glory can be seen right here.
Of course, there is no mention of the role played by US-subsidized agriculture in flooding Mexican markets and pushing farmers off their land. Or of the widespread use of hazardous and expensive chemicals on the “larger, more productive operations” Mexico was left with. Or of the massive food insecurity reduced domestic food production has led to.
You also have to love the perverse restrictionist conclusion reached from the (correct) assertion that immigrants are people and not mere inputs. Does Mr. Krikorian really think that goods, services and capital should be given full freedom of movement but that human beings shouldn’t? Does he even realize that he is reaching the opposite conclusion any decent person would reach? The granting of rights and protections to multinational investments and traded goods that impoverished peasants can only dream of is one of the cruel ironies of the current global order.
And don’t even get me started on the callous description of hard-working and dispossessed farm workers as “excess Mexican peasantry.”
Perhaps the sociopathic sentiments expressed in this editorial are an honest look at the mind of the privileged First Worlder. Just as the slaveholder had to rationalize the chaining of human beings to their plantations, the First World must collectively rationalize its decision to deny sanctuary to those who have been disenfranchised by global capitalism. Keeping Third Worlders in the Third World increases the pool of desperate shanty towners and slum dwellers who have no choice but to work in industrial sweatshops or cash crop plantations to meet their daily needs.
These views, that the pauperization of Mexicans was a necessary development for efficient production, that the unrestrained international flow of capital–despite being an inherently disruptive and destabilizing force–is a net good for society, and that only the flow of newly destitute human beings must be restrained, are essentially motivated by social sadism and craven self-interest. These two motives also reside at the very foundations of the global neoliberal order.