Friday, May 24, 2019

Immigration and Globalization: A Lesson from the NAFTA Experience

Guest blogger: Jorge Ambriz, Masters in Migration Studies student, University of San Francisco

Emerging from a post-Cold War new normal, the North American Free Trade Agreement promised prosperity through trade facilitation, and an overall feel-good sentiment across the three North American nations enabled the passage of the agreement in the early 1990s. NAFTA lowered tariffs, essentially creating a North American market that enabled the quick manufacturing of goods with little regard to national borders. But the unintended devaluing of labor had detrimental effects on labor markets, especially the employment sector of Mexico. Although NAFTA kept its promise of easing the movement of goods across the North American continent, the agreement also had the unintended consequence of economically displacing those on the lower rungs of society.

            At odds with NAFTA’s promise of prosperity was the U.S. response in the form of immigration policy. The free movement of goods was at the same time met with the increasingly militarized Mexico-U.S. border. Just months after NAFTA’s passage, measures like Operation Gatekeeper in California were implemented to physically deter entry. This approach was not what proponents of NAFTA had envisioned; the movement of capital and goods indirectly led to a rise in economic migrants knocking on the southern border. This move toward border securitization ran parallel to the neoliberal dream of free movement of capital, contributing to the displacement of many.

            Undoubtedly, NAFTA, and those who pushed for it, are responsible for the weakening of the employment sector that Mexico continues to experience. Responsibility should then be on the trading partners to provide some relief. If credit wants to be taken when times are good, responsibility should be taken when things go bad. The standardization of labor, particularly when comparing the United States and Mexico experience, pushed many Mexican workers out of the continental labor market. Mexico had already been going through a tough economic period in the decade prior to NAFTA, and only made the everyday Mexican laborer brunt the negative effects of unfair competition. If agreements like NAFTA are to stand, pathways to absorb labor from other displaced regions is a step in the right direction. 

            Moving forward, advancements in technology might be a factor with similar consequences to NAFTA. We are already seeing the displacement of working class people in the United States due to unfair labor competition, with working class families being pushed farther and farther away from major metropolitan hubs like the Bay Area. Technology is already undermining the nation-state via its leaps in travel technology and communication. We can talk with people from across the globe on our digital screens. Information travels faster now than at any time before. A lesson should be taken from the NAFTA experience. A rethinking of the interplay between immigration policy and globalization should be undertaken. In the globalized world that technology promises, the human factor should not come secondary to the benefits of technology. There should be immigration policy that caters to the needs of a 21st century world.


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