Immigration Is a NAFTA Problem. This Is Not Big News

We hear very little about one law that has played a key role in exacerbating illegal immigration, and the controversies surrounding it, the North American Free Trade Act of 1994.
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Why is it so easy to pass bad Big Ideas, and so hard to enact the good ones? Is it because no one's talking about them?

We need to control the banks, the oil, the environment... So hard to get consensus! But we hear very little about one law that has played a key role in exacerbating illegal immigration, and the controversies surrounding it. The North American Free Trade Act of 1994 -- NAFTA -- pushed Mexicans straight out of their own fields and factories and into the U.S., contributing to declining standards of living and income inequality on both sides of the border. Cheap corn from U.S. agribusiness drove domestic Mexican farmers out of a livelihood, and into cities where there were also no jobs. Foreign factories clustered at the U.S. border, but overall manufacturing in Mexico plummeted.

Among many, many sources explaining exactly this, a NY Times article on February 18, 2007, by Louis Uchitelle cites Gary Hufbauer, "a senior fellow at the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington who campaigned for NAFTA in the early 1990s." Commenting on its failures to create one job in either Mexico or the U.S., Hufbauer expounded: "It just did not happen."

Learning our lesson, the U.S. went on to promulgate similar "neutron bomb" agreements in Central America and elsewhere (the foreign corporations were left standing but the human standards of living were annihilated).

The U.S. can claim greatness in many respects, but it is hard to make a credible case that the virtual refugees fleeing across the border are motivated by admiration for our culture. Or even our stuff. To say nothing of their desire, trumpeted by the nativists who seem to be blooming in these hard times, to "replace our culture and our language with that from which they fled."

Years later, all the misguided policy gurus at the Peterson Institute can say is "oops." (And let's dismantle Social Security while we're at it). It's too bad the nation's governors, worrying that the President's leadership in challenging the Arizona law will hurt their chances in the upcoming election, can't find the wherewithal and the common sense to follow the President's example. Concerned about creating jobs and stemming the deficit? Reverse NAFTA and CAFTA, and invest in education and social programs. Isn't it time for leaders who will lead?

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