Guest Commentary

The vast majority of people crossing the border are hard-working people doing moral good--so why not welcome them?

In the face of the many articles we have read cheering on the Border Patrol and their buildup at the border, I say: Open the borders.

I realize the very thought brings fear to many people. It shouldn't, terrorists notwithstanding. With easy access to work visas, the only people left who would walk across the deserts are the criminals and the nuts.

Most agree that the large influx of people clamoring to come the United States from Latin America do so for economic reasons. So who are these people, and why does this flow of people willing to work for slave wages exist? What pushes fathers and mothers to leave their families in Mexico to take the perilous journey to cross our deserts?

Most migrants are people with families who depend on them for support. They come to the United States to jobs awaiting them, jobs most Americans will not take. They pick cucumbers and lettuce, work as landscapers in Sun Belt heat, work as maids and meat cutters. And while some wonder how people can eke out a living at such jobs, migrants manage to send large sums of money to their families in Mexico.

Last year, it is estimated that immigrants sent some $13 billion to their families in Mexico (Sanchez, Marcela, "Immigrant's Money Could Serve Hemispheric Cohesion," Apr. 1, 2004, Washington Post). That's $13 billion sent home by people working for substandard wages mopping floors and picking strawberries.

Ethically, that makes them the cream of the human race, for they have worked hard and risked their lives to support their families. Greater love hath no one than this! Faced with the same choice, the most honorable among us would do the same, but many insist on demonizing the Mexican people who cross the border. They refer to them as "illegal aliens" and support criminalizing their crossing a border that would not stop them were the United States truly engaged in a "Free Trade Agreement."

Which leads to the next consideration: the North American Free Trade Agreement. Many of the people who migrate to the United States could sustain themselves before NAFTA upset their ability to work their farms. According to a paper put out by Public Citizen on the 10-year track record of NAFTA, many of the policies of NAFTA obligate countries to maintain trading policies that have driven the farmers in Mexico from their land.

These policies allowed U.S companies to glut the Mexican market with crops such as corn and other products grown by U.S.-subsidized agribusinesses such as ADM, ConAgra and Cargill. Since NAFTA lifted protections that might have prevented the dumping of U.S. imports in Mexico, highly-subsidized U.S. grain began to flow across the border. This made U.S.-grown corn cheaper for Mexicans to buy than the Mexican-grown corn.

In Mexico, with the economic base of many towns evaporating, farmers had to go to the cities in search of work. There, they may work for $10 or $12 dollars a day at a maquila factory. There are far more applicants than hires.

U.S. and Canadian independent farmers have suffered great losses under NAFTA as well. They usually receive no subsidies from their governments. Indeed, independent farmers in all three NAFTA countries are a dying breed. Meanwhile, agribusinesses thrive. ConAgra's net income increased from $437 million in 2000 to $774 million in 2003. Cargill's net earnings went from $581 million in 1999 to $1.29 billion in 2003. This was reported by Public Citizen in their "NAFTA at Ten Series," and the figures come from each company's financial reports.

So the migrants come, but they must travel to the United States on the sly, because the Free Trade Agreement with Mexico provided business people from Mexico free travel, not laborers. This serves U.S. interests in a number of ways: U.S. companies located in Mexico enjoy a constant supply of cheap labor subjected to only poorly enforced labor laws.

So make a moral choice. Support a system that enslaves workers and subsidizes corporate agribusiness, or put coyotes out of business and open the gates to workers from Mexico. The people in Mexico come because jobs here await them. People willing to work hard to support their families stand among the most honorable of people. Why not welcome them?

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