Saturday, April 15, 2006

Fix the disease, not the symptoms.

Immigration is probably the single biggest problem we face today in America, and everyone knows it. The politicos and their corporate sponsors who benefit from it are well aware of who it hurts, and how much, but since Joe Sixpack seems to not care very much, they see no reason not to simply pretend otherwise.

Mexico is being stripped of its rural agrarian population and their supporting businesspeople, who are being encouraged and subsidized to sneak into El Norte by any means possible, and crank out little mestizitos on US soil while undermining wages, stubbornly retaining their own culture, and ignoring American ways studiously. (Like flushing the toilet paper instead of putting on the floor, meaning men's as well as women's stalls must now have sanitary disposal cans in company office bathrooms.) Yet, we might ask, why now all of a sudden are these rurales pouring in like gangbusters? Why not in the seventies and eighties?

Well, not only lax but deliberately nonfeasant border patrolling and immigration enforcement are certainly one reason. But another: NAFTA, which has actually undercut farm goods prices in Mexico by making much cheaper American grown staple crops, grown by subsidized megafarmers with subsidized petrochemicals. The peasants are being, to an extent, forced out.

Tom Philpott has this interesting view:

An environmentalism that challenges this fundamental status quo has real potential to bolster sustainability. By developing and promoting local production for local consumption on both sides of the border, the U.S. economy can wean itself from its schizophrenic addiction to disenfranchised Mexican labor. And the Mexican economy can begin to work for its own citizens, not for the global investor class.

To do so means forging cross-border coalitions to challenge the assumption that state power exists to promote long-distance trade. One place to start: the 2007 Farm Bill, which Congress will soon take up. The bill will govern how the government subsidizes agriculture. Since the 1970s, the federal government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars rewarding bulk production of environmentally ruinous commodities like corn, which also threaten rural livelihoods in Mexico.

Let's work to rewire federal farm policy to promote organic agriculture destined for nearby consumption. Ending the commodity-corn subsidy alone will instantly provide relief to beleaguered rural Mexicans now contemplating a hazardous trip north to a nation that both relies on and scorns them.

Securing the borders, deporting illegals, and punishing employers who knowingly or without due diligence hire illegals, while necessary, are not enough. NAFTA must be made contingent on Mexican self-investment in agriculture and our farm subsidy practices must be reviewed (to say the very least.) Better yet, NAFTA should be chucked in the trash can as the bad idea it really is.


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