Originally published in the Cape Cod Times August 15, 2014
It would be good if people could take an emotional inventory of the root causes of their negative feelings toward the young immigrants from Latin America. Once people understand them, hopefully they will see that the now-defunct plan to house the children on the base for four months is separate from the overall immigration issue.
I did my own inventory to try to understand where people were coming from on the issue. Here is what I found. The problems of immigrants are the same ones we are experiencing … only more dire.
It is understandable why people fear immigrants. People are concerned that more immigrants will do even more to take away jobs and suppress wages in a process that has been going on since the 1970s. When I was young, I could always get a job in a factory that would support my family if I decided not to go to college. Many of my friends did. Then the factories began shutting down and moving away. The situation can be exacerbated by immigrants – legal and not legal – who can work for less money.
Americans are losing their jobs to overseas workers who will work for less when factories move out of the U.S. Most American manufacturing has moved overseas to take advantage of unorganized workers who have lower wages, drastically reduced benefits and few, if any, worker protections. Corporations that move overseas also have more options to pollute, because there is less environmental regulation.
Almost all corporations do this in the name of creating more wealth for their shareholders, which they claim is their only responsibility. That claim is debatable.
The end product to all of this is there is a lot less job security in America and a much greater gap between rich and poor, something that didn’t exist back in the 1950s through 1980s.
So, the concern that many Americans have about immigration is understandable. Anything that contributes to less job security for Americans is something that can and should be avoided. In addition, it irritates most people to know we can’t control our own borders.
I recently had the privilege of hearing the Rev. John Dorhauer, Southwest Conference Minister of the United Church of Christ, who spoke from his heart about the plight of the immigrants and why they are leaving their homes. He explained that there are three causes to the increased migration, not of the immigrants’ making.
The first two are products of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Alliance, which went into effect in 1993. NAFTA put the small farmers in Latin America out of business by subsidizing the corn producers in the states. Thousands of Latin American farmers found that they could not produce corn at the same price as American corn. They sold their farms to feed their families and many of them immigrated to the States to work on American farms. Where there were once many thriving small farms and villages, there is now only overgrown fields.
NAFTA also shut down roughly 30,000 small businesses by enabling big-box stores to move into Mexico. The big boxes undercut all the small businesses that once appeared on every small town’s main street. Sound familiar? Wal-Mart has replaced those businesses just as they have here at home. Here in the States, Wal-Mart pays its workers minimum wage while coaching them to get food stamps and other federal benefits, effectively shifting its responsibility to pay a living wage to the American taxpayer. What do the Latin American businessmen do to provide for their families? What would you do?
Last, there is the war on drugs that has made the Americans who consume drugs the financiers of drug cartels and their gangs in Mexico and Central America. These cartels and gangs have set up shop in every American city. They commit unspeakable acts of terror upon the people and children of Latin America.
The best way to stem the tide of immigration is to create better living conditions in Latin America. It is essential that all families be able to eat and keep themselves in basic necessities: housing, water and good health. They need work just as we do, and it doesn’t have to be a great-paying job.
The first thing we should do is eliminate the NAFTA subsidies for American corn producers. They now have price guarantees borne by the American taxpayer.
The next thing we should do is eliminate the dominance of big-box stores and make them pay living wages, both here and in Latin America. How do you do it? We should implement legislation to regulate corporations similar to the way the Community Reinvestment Act did banks. Corporations should play by our rules in order to keep their charters … rules that benefit the common good both here and in other countries. It would help if the rules were international in scope.
Finally, we must do more to reduce drug use in America. We need to provide treatment instead of mandatory jail time for nonviolent drug offenders. Putting them in jail only perpetuates the problem. To reduce the use of drugs, we should provide people with well-paying, family-supporting jobs so they can raise families and become responsible taxpaying citizens.
Bringing manufacturing home and addressing our energy needs with clean-energy alternatives, like offshore wind turbines, smart grids and energy efficiency, is our future, one we need to embrace to help industry create these jobs.
Matt Patrick is a candidate for the Plymouth and Barnstable Senate District.