JO - A wall of shame
A wall of shame
Sunday, January 15, 2006
The Mexican President, Vincente Fox, has described it as a "wall of shame". Foreign Ministers of 10 South and Central American countries, including Belize, denounced it on January 9th. US businessmen have criticised it. Yet, the majority in the US House of Representatives is determined to build a wall to separate Mexico from the US.
Last month- on December 16th - the US House of Representatives approved a border security Bill which would not only authorise the extension of a wall along part of the Mexican-US border, but would also classify persons living illegally in the US as criminals.
The Bill, as a whole, makes nonsense of the idea that the formal creation of a free trade area integrates communities. For it targets Mexicans and Central Americans, both of which are partners with the US in free trade agreements.
Worse, the project suggests that free trade can take place over a wall. Indeed, support for the passage of the Bill strongly suggests that free trade arrangements between unequal countries are bound to run into trouble if machinery is not established to help poorer partners overcome unemployment and poverty.
In this connection, there are lessons to be learned by the Caribbean in respect of the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement (FTAA) with countries of the Western Hemisphere, and the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) with the EU, which are being negotiated. If there are no significant and sustained funds to build up the economies and institutions of Caribbean countries, neither the FTAA nor the EPA may be worth it.
Mexico and the US, along with Canada, are the three members of the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA), a common market that came into being in 1994. Under the terms of NAFTA, companies of all three countries have the right to move capital and goods and services into each other's territory, but labour is restricted.
Largely, US companies are better resourced than are Mexican ones. They have sold goods and services in Mexico, purchased land and established competitive businesses that have led to the collapse of some Mexican enterprises, causing unemployment.
Mexican immigrants entering the US
Since NAFTA makes no provision for the free movement of labour, Mexicans who are dislocated from their jobs cannot legally cross the borders into the territories of their NAFTA partners to seek employment. So, they try to do so illegally.
Which never happened before NAFTA?
This has added to the already great number of Mexicans who, for decades, have been illegally crossing the border into the US in search of a livelihood.
Those who advocated the passage of this Bill have done so on a wave of populist sentiment that Mexican immigrants, in particular, are drug addicts and free loaders who are sneaking into the US to pollute the country, living off the social welfare system and committing crimes.
This view of the Mexicans has been spread by irresponsible and ill-informed media and religious groups who neglect to point out that many of these same Mexicans work as farm labourers, construction workers and domestic help - jobs most Americans won't do, and without which the economy would decline.
Of course, the policies of the government of Mexico have not helped either.Social and economic circumstances in Mexico are pushing Mexicans out of their country just as much as they are pulled to the better economic conditions in the US.
Despite its significant oil revenues, successive Mexican governments have failed to establish programmes of empowerment for all but a small minority of Mexicans.
Ruben Aguilar, a spokesman for President Fox, says that the rate of migration from Mexico to the US has slowed in recent years due to the "social policy of the Mexican state which is reducing extreme poverty".
This may be so, but the programmes are evidently inadequate. And if there are any programmes to revitalise the rural areas giving small farmers land tenure on a bankable basis, to build housing, and to create jobs, the vastly overcrowded cities and slum areas - particularly in Mexico City - brutally deny their success.
Equally, the governments of the United States and Canada - both wealthier than their free trade partner - have not offered the Mexican government programmes of assistance that could help to improve education and training in Mexico, create new businesses and jobs, and widen the middle class.
Instead, there is a wall, a barrier that says "stay on your side, keep away from our side". It is an awful symbol of division and separateness, a condemnation of those on the other side. How could such a barrier be justified between two countries that have agreed in NAFTA to tear down barriers to goods, services and capital?
And what will it do to business? US companies that have established businesses in Mexico could eventually become targets of those who resent the existence of a wall that defines them as undesirable and substandard.
The second part of the border security bill, classifying illegal immigrants as criminals, has implications as much for Caribbean persons as it does for the Mexicans and Central Americans.
Already, tens of thousands of Caribbean-born persons have been deported from the United States because of criminal offences even though their connection to the region is not much more than the accident of their birth. Now that being in the US illegally is to be made a criminal offence, many thousands more will be shipped out.
Crime in the Caribbean is already a problem that is overwhelming local law enforcement agencies, many of whom believe that it has been made worse by the large number of criminals deported from the US and Canada.
But, crime is also being fed by growing unemployment and poverty as the Region loses markets for its principal exports - bananas and sugar especially.
The deportation from the US of persons, who are not criminals but who are there illegally, will add to the burden of jobless persons in the Caribbean who must be catered for at a time when government revenues are dropping in real terms.
The border security bill, therefore, will not be good for the Caribbean either.
a already opens its doors to legal immigrants every year.No other country does as much, and the US should be admired for it. And, illegal immigration is a problem, particularly because it forces people into life in the shadows and feeds the criminals who live off the plight of illegal immigrants.
But declaring illegal immigrants to be criminals further hurts people who, in most cases, are only immigrants because their lives are already battered by desperation.
The US Senate is to yet to consider the bill. The governments of the Caribbean Community countries should join their South and Central America counterparts and many US business leaders in discouraging the bill, while there is still time for the US to seek better ways of dealing with illegal immigration.