[OPE] Hightower on immigration and globalization

From: gerald_levy1973 (Gerald_A_Levy@msn.com)
Date: Fri Feb 08 2008 - 09:21:55 EST

Immigrants Come Here Because Globalization Took Their Jobs Back There

By Jim Hightower
Hightower Lowdown, Posted on February 7, 2008

The wailing in our country about the "invasion of immigrants" has 
been long and loud. As one complainant put it, "Few of their children 
in the country learn English ...The signs in our streets have 
inscriptions in both languages ... Unless the stream of the 
importation could be turned they will soon so outnumber us that all 
the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and 
even our government will become precarious."

That's not some diatribe from one of today's Republican presidential 
candidates. It's the anxious cry of none other than Ben Franklin, 
deploring the wave of Germans pouring into the colony of Pennsylvania 
in the 1750s.

Thus, anti-immigrant eruptions are older than the United States 
itself, and they've flared up periodically throughout our history, 
targeting the Irish, French, Italians, Chinese, and others. Even 
George W's current project to wall off our border is not a new bit of 
nuttiness -around the time of the nation's founding, John Jay, who 
later became the first chief justice of the Supreme Court, 
proposed "a wall of brass around the country for the exclusion of 

Luckily for the development and enrichment of our country, these past 
public frenzies ultimately failed to exclude the teeming masses, and 
those uproars now appear through the telescope of time to have been 
some combination of ridiculous panic, political demagoguery and 
xenophobic ugliness. Still, this does not mean that the public's 
anxiety and simmering anger about today's massive influx of Mexicans 
coming illegally across our 2,000-mile shared border is illegitimate. 
However, most of what the politicians and pundits are saying about it 
is illegitimate.

Wedge issue

There is way too much xenophobia, racism and demagoguery at play 
around illegal immigration, but such crude sentiments are not what is 
bringing this problem to a national political boil. Polls show - as 
do conversations at any Chat & Chew Cafe in the country - that there 
is a deep and genuine alarm about the issue among the nonxenophobic, 
nonracist American majority. In particular, workaday families are 
fearful about what an endless flow of low-wage workers portends for 
their economic future, and they're not getting good answers from 
Republicans, Democrats, corporate leaders or the media.

For the GOP candidates in this year's presidential run, the contest 
is coming down to who can be the most nativist knucklehead. They 
accuse each other of not wanting to punish immigrant children enough, 
of not being absolutists on "English-only" proposals, of having 
coddled illegal entrants in the past with amnesty proposals and 
sanctuaries, and of not being hawkish enough on sealing off and 
militarizing the border.

The leader of the anti-immigrant Republican pack is Tom Tancredo, a 
Colorado congress-critter who based his ill-fated presidential 
campaign on immigrant bashing. This goober is so nasty he'd scare 
small children. His website screeched that immigrants are "pushing 
drugs, raping kids, destroying lives," and his campaign slogan is a 
sledgehammer demand: "Deport those who don't belong. Make sure they 
never come back." As for illegal immigrants, Tom thinks that the 
term "illegal" is too soft, preferring to demonize immigrants 
as "aliens." Tancredo doesn't merely rant, he foams at the mouth, 
maniacally warning about waves of Mexican terrorists who are "coming 
to kill me and you and your children." Accused of trying to turn 
America into a gated community, he exulted, "You bet!"

At least he's taken a position, even if it's un-American and loopy.

Democratic leaders, on the other hand, have mostly tried to do a 
squishy shuffle, wanting to beef up law enforcement against illegal 
immigrants while also mouthing soothing words about the good work 
ethic of our friends south of the border and offering a bureaucratic 
rigmarole to allow some of the younger ones to gain permanent 
residency in our country. Worse, such corporate Democrats as Rep. 
Rahm Emanuel urge the party's candidates either to adopt the 
Republican's punitive message or simply to try ducking the issue.

Which brings us to the wall, both figuratively and literally. The 
fact that we are resorting to the construction of an enormous fence 
between two friendly nations admits to an abject failure by policy 
makers, who are so bereft of ideas, honesty, courage and morality 
that all they can do is to try walling off the problem.

We've had experience here in Texas with the futility of tall border 
fences.  Molly Ivins reported a beer-induced incident that took place 
in 1983.  Walling off Mexico had been proposed back then by the 
Reaganauts, and a test fence had been built way down in the Big Bend 
outpost of Terlingua. This little town also happened to be the site 
of a renowned chili cookoff that Molly helped judge, and it attracted 
a big crowd of impish, beer-drinking chiliheads.

There stood the barrier, 17 feet tall and topped with barbwire. It 
didn't take many beers before the first-ever "Terlingua Memorial 
Over, Under, or Through the Mexican Fence Climbing Contest" was 
cooked up. Winning time: 30 seconds.

Yet here come the border sealers again. Bush & Co. (including 
Democrats who have allowed the funding) is putting up an initial $1.2 
billion to start building this version of the wall, which is 
projected to cost up to $60 billion over the next 25 years to build 
and maintain. It's a monster wall -two or three 40-foot-high rows of 
reinforced fencing that take a swath of land 150 feet wide and 
stretch for 700 miles.

The Mexican government and people are insulted and appalled by the 
wall; ranchers, mayors and families living on either side of the 
border hate it; environmentalists are aghast at its destructive 
impact on the ecology of the area. Still, it's being built. Indeed, a 
2005 federal act contained a little-noticed section authorizing 
Bush's Homeland Security czar to suspend any laws that stand in the 
way of building the wall. Current czar Michael Chertoff has already 
used this unprecedented authority to waive 19 statutes, including the 
Endangered Species, Clean Water and National Historic Preservation 

All this for something that will not work. As Gov. Janet Napolitano 
of Arizona put it, "Show me a 50-foot wall and I'll show you a 51-
foot ladder." People have literally been dying to cross into the 
United States, and it's not possible to build a wall tall enough to 
stop them. They will keep coming.


The question that policy makers have not faced honestly is this one: 
Why do these immigrants come? The answer is not that they are pulled 
by our jobs and government benefits, but that they are pushed by the 
abject poverty that their families face in Mexico. That might seem 
like a mere semantic difference, but it's huge if you're trying to 
develop a policy to stop the human flood across our border.

Although you never hear it mentioned in debates on the issue, you 
might start with this reality: Most Mexican people really would 
prefer to live in their own country. Can we all say, duh? Pedro 
Martin, who has seen most of the young men and women in his small 
village depart for El Norte, put it this way: "Up north, even though 
they pay more, you're not necessarily living as well. You feel out of 
place. Here you can walk around the whole town, and it's comfortable. 
Life is easier."

Their family, language, culture, identity and happiness is Mexican -
yet sheer economic survival requires so many of them to abandon the 
place they love.

Again, why? Because in the last 15 years, Mexico's longstanding 
system of sustaining its huge population of poor citizens (including 
small self-sufficient farms, jobs in state-owned industries and 
subsidies for such essentials as tortillas) has been scuttled at the 
insistence of U.S. banks, corporations, government officials 
and "free market" ideologues. In the name of "modernizing" the 
Mexican economy, such giants as Citigroup, Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and 
GE -in cahoots with the plutocrats and oligarchs of Mexico -have laid 
waste to that country's grass-roots economy, destroying the already-
meager livelihoods of millions.

The 1994 imposition of NAFTA was particularly devastating. Just as 
Bill Clinton and the corporate elites did here, Mexico's ruling 
elites touted NAFTA as a magic elixir that would generate growth, 
create jobs, raise wages and eliminate the surge of Mexican migrants 
into the United States. They were horribly wrong:

Economic growth in Mexico has been anemic since '94, and the benefits 
of any growth have gone overwhelmingly to the wealthiest families.

Since NAFTA, Mexico has created less than a third of the millions of 
decent jobs it needs.

Average factory wages in Mexico have dropped by more than 5 percent 
under NAFTA.

Unemployment has jumped, and unskilled workers are paid only $5 a day.

U.S. agribusiness corporations have more than doubled their shipment 
of subsidized crops into Mexico, busting the price that indigenous 
farmers got for their production and displacing some 2 million 
peasant farmers from their land.

Huge agribusiness operations, many owned by U.S. investors, now 
control Mexican agricultural production and pay farmworkers under $2 
an hour.

Since NAFTA passed, there has been a flood of business bankruptcies 
and takeovers in Mexico as predatory U.S. chains have moved in. U.S. 
corporations now control 40 percent of the country's formal jobs, 
with Wal-Mart reigning as the No. 1 employer.

Nineteen million more Mexicans live in poverty today than when NAFTA 
was passed.

So, here's the deal: Thanks to Mexico's newly corporatized economy, 
wage earners there get poverty pay of $5 a day (about $1,600 a year), 
while a few hundred miles north, they might draw that much in an 
hour. What would you do?

The wrong debate

In our national imbroglio over Mexican immigration (yes, some illegal 
migrants come from elsewhere, but more than three-fourths are from 
Mexico), our "leaders" have set us up to look down at impoverished 
working people forced to leave their homeland and risk death in order 
to help their families escape poverty.

Instead of coming down on them, why not start looking up--up at the 
executive suites on both sides of the border. Up is where the power 
is. The moneyed elites in those suites are the profiteering few who 
have rigged all of our trade and labor policies to knock down 
workers, farmers and small businesses, not merely in Mexico but in 
our country as well.

In the United States, the middle class feels imperiled because ... 
well, because it is imperiled. Politicians, economists and the richly 
paid pundits keep telling us that the American economy is robust and 
that people's financial pessimism and anxieties are irrational. At 
the kitchen table level, however, folks know the difference between 
chicken salad and chicken manure. Yes, these are boom times for the 
luxury class, but the middle class is imploding. In a recent letter 
to the editor, a working stiff in California put it this way:

"We've replaced steaks with corn flakes; we can't afford to get sick; 
our kids can't afford health insurance; we hope that our 10-year-old 
van keeps running because we can't afford a new one; our kids can't 
buy a home because housing prices are exorbitant; our purchasing 
power continually regresses; and worst of all, the poverty and near-
poverty classes are growing."

It's this economic fragility that anti-immigrant forces play on. But 
even if there were no illegal workers in our country -- none -- the 
fragility would remain, for poor Mexican laborers are not the ones 

* Downsized and offshored our middle-class jobs.

* Perverted our bankruptcy laws to let corporations abrogate their 
union contracts.

* Stopped enforcement of America's wage and hour laws.

* Perverted the National Labor Relations Board into an anti-worker 
tool for corporations.

* Illegally reclassified millions of employees as "independent 
contractors," leaving them with no benefits or labor rights.

* Subverted the right of workers to organize.

* Turned a blind eye to the re-emergence in America of sweatshops and 
child labor in everything from the clothing industry to Wal-Mart.

* Made good healthcare a luxury item.

* Let rich campaign donors take over both political parties.

* Passed by hook and crook a continuing series of global-trade scams 
to enrich the few and knock down the many.

Powerless immigrants didn't do these things to us. The richest, most-
powerful, best-connected corporate interests did them. Judy Ancel, 
director of the Institute for Labor Studies at the University of 
Missouri, offers this example of Iowa Beef Processors (IBP), the 
largest meatpacker in the United States, now owned by the 
multibillion-dollar conglomerate Tyson Foods:

Until the late 1970s, meatpacking was a high-wage industry, with 
highly skilled workers in charge. Factories were in union cities, 
union contracts provided good wages and benefits, and unions set 
professional standards for everything from worker training to safety 
conditions. Then IBP's executives transformed this beneficial model 
into today's profiteering system. The factories moved to nonunion 
cities and rural areas, and lower-skilled workers were hired to do 
repetitive cuts on speeded-up assembly lines. With Reagan as 
president, meat-industry lobbyists were able to emasculate labor 
laws, and unions lost their influence over the workplace, which 
became much less rewarding and more dangerous. IBP began intensive 
recruiting of Mexican workers (legal or not) to do what had become 
very nasty work. In only 20 years, meatpacking wages dropped by 
roughly half, the union was ousted, and the rate of workplace injury 
became one of the highest of any industry (more than a fourth of m
eatpacking workers now suffer "accidents").

The fix

Immigration reform cannot be separated from labor and trade reform. 
We can't fix the former without dealing with the other two. We must 
stop the exploitative NAFTAfication of such aspiring economies as 
Mexico and instead develop genuine grass-roots investment policies 
that give people there an ability to remain in their homeland. Then 
we must enforce our own labor laws -from wage and hour rules to the 
NLRB -so as to empower American workers to enforce their own rights.

Eliminating the need to migrate from Mexico and rebuilding the middle-
class ladder, here is an "immigration policy" that will work. But it 
requires us to go right at the corporate kleptocracy that now owns 
Washington and controls the debate.

We must challenge Democrats, especially, to broaden the debate and to 
recognize that they must choose sides -to be for workers or for more 
trade imperialism. Right now, the Democratic leadership is siding 
with imperialism and exacerbating the economic causes of Latino 
migration. For example, just last month, Speaker Nancy Pelosi 
engineered a vote to extend NAFTA to Peru, a corporate favor that 
could be called the Tom-Rahm Bipartisan Axis of Immigration 
Stupidity, for it drew enthusiastic support from both Tom Tancredo 
and Rahm Emanuel.

America's immigration problem is not down on the border, it's in 
Washington and on Wall Street.


>From " The Hightower Lowdown," edited by Jim Hightower and Phillip 
Frazer, January 2008. Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, 
writer, public speaker and author of the new book Swim Against the 
Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow. ( Wiley, March 2008)

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