In 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was enacted affecting Mexico, the United States and Canada. Then-President Bill Clinton claimed the deal would “dramatically reduce pressures on illegal immigration from Mexico to the United States.”
The Committee for General Amnesty and Social Justice claimed that by reducing governmental regulation of trade between countries, Mexico would be “launched into First-World status.” However, since the deal’s passage, there has been an increase in undocumented immigration from 400,000 migrants a year to 850,000 per year in 2005, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. NAFTA has also had disastrous consequences for U.S. and Mexican workers.
What went wrong?
The expansion of corporate power did not come with more protection for workers.
The result has been a massive imbalance in power between U.S. manufacturing and agricultural corporate entities and the indigenous Mexican working poor, who had already been struggling against violent oppression, racism, and harassment. These people were forced into desperate situations in order to feed their families week after week. Some resorted to rebellion, others were forced to work in sweatshop maquiladoras, and others were forced to look for work elsewhere because of the loss of more than 2 million jobs as a result of depending on imported foods.
Maquiladoras are those largely U.S. manufacturing companies that have been shipped across the border in the past decade and a half. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus said that “during NAFTA, the U.S. manufacturing sector lost almost one in six jobs, or about 3 million jobs, since its most recent peak level.
“In 1999, an astounding 47 percent of the total number of workers who received federal assistance under a program for workers certified as having lost jobs as a direct result of NAFTA were Latino,” according to the caucus. “In contrast, Latinos accounted for 12.5 percent of the U.S. population in 2000.”
These jobs were shipped across the border to locations that seemed more attractive to corporate executives, who felt that the U.S. jobs could be done for less, that the environmental standards in the United States weren’t fair and the right of workers to organize wasn’t necessary in running their business. They also didn’t seem to mind so much that all those U.S. jobs would be lost. Maquiladoras are well known for being sites of union busting and police brutality, violence against women and corporate degradation of workers.
For example, NPR reports that in the border city of Juarez, Mexico, the bodies of more than 300 women have been found dead, raped, tortured, and mutilated while hundreds more have gone missing in and around the city of 1.5 million.
Amnesty International reports that between the cities of Juarez and Chihuahua, “177 state officials were found to have been possibly responsible for negligence or omission in the original investigations. However, none of these officials has been brought to justice by the state authorities as the statute of limitations has been applied in their favor.”
NPR notes that many of the victims shared shockingly similar characteristics: “young, slim, dark complexion, shoulder-length hair, and poor daughters of the working class.” The authorities and police in the area are widely accused of being “inept, corrupt, and even complicit in the killings.”
Most of the women were the mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, cousins, loved ones of those desperate working poor forced to work in the maquiladoras. These women work hours late into the night for wages cents to the dollar of U.S. wages, without any rights, protections or concern from their employers.
On top of these companies’ apathy about the lives of their employees, they fail to show any concern about their livelihood. Don’t think the United States isn’t joining in on the vacation from human rights, either. They have the power to hold corporations accountable for the violent exploitation of people.
The U.S. government is even seeking to expand NAFTA, as well as forge similar agreements with other Latin American countries, such as Colombia. The BBC reports on the president’s proposed agreement with Colombia that Congress believes “not enough is being done to support U.S. workers whose jobs could be threatened by the agreement and are concerned about the level of violence against trade union members in Colombia.”
The warning signs are all present to see if the U.S. government will again side with corporate profits over human rights.
Since the U.S. and Mexican governments either did nothing about or participated in the human rights abuses in both countries, there are two logical conclusions: The leaders agree with the actions of these corporations, or they do not care about human rights.
Since many in this government and the media are making undocumented migrants to be the scapegoats for the loss of jobs – when the group they blame lost employment as a result of governmental policy – there is something else to consider: they want the American population to be hostile toward these people and to place more value on corporate profits than on human rights and dignity.
Jose Ferrer is a sophomore majoring in sociology.