Connecting the Dots

Connecting the Dots: How Trade Policy and Immigration Intersect
Posted on December 10, 2019 by ELVIA

Journey of an Immigrant Delegation, WOB and ATCF, May 2012. The bizzare construction of border walls that hurt residents, migrants and wlldlife.


The border, migrant laborers, the maquiladoras and now ICE jails and deportation.

One of the legacies of a discourse on NAFTA (or USMCA) bereft of context — e.g., examining how the impact of sending all those U.S. factory jobs to the Mexican border produced massive waves of migration to the maquiladoras and into the U.S. –is the systematic rise of anti-immigrant hostilities in law and practice. Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda is just more explicitly racist and will be more enduring.

Who migrates? Promoters of a free global market love the idea of the borderless activity of investing in another country. Free movement of capital. The changes in policy however, seemingly never support people’s free moment or their need for living wages, job security or workplace safety.

We now know that NAFTA allowed companies to outsource and avoid union wages in the U.S. When those jobs arrived in Mexico they were systematically anti-worker, anti-woman, toxic, and anti-union.

NAFTA didn’t improve life overall for the American workers whose jobs went off to Mexico (or other countries) or for the working class Mexican citizens who took those jobs. Whether the new NAFTA 2.0 actually delivers on improvement of lives is unclear.

“Free trade” has usually meant borderless movement that’s great for business but not for workers. Today’s “free trade” zone is not free.

A militarized border is not a free border for migrants. Whether it is the maquiladora worker fed up with an unsafe job, or the woman fleeing sexual violence, or the family being persecuted for beliefs or property by organized gangs, the option to leave the country and try to start a new life at the U.S. border simply doesn’t exist today.

Immigration Jails

U.S. free trade agendas have never helped workers either here or abroad. Post NAFTA, or Trump’s revised USMCA, the movement of capital, for the corporate “person” remains borderless and free. The movement of workers, migrants or asylum seekers is not. For the human being presumed an illegal migrant the border today is closed, policed and militarized.

Border wall section near the Eagle Pass Int’l Bridge.


Writer, attorney, Lawprof Emerita from Northern Illinois University.
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