Weekly Diaspora: How Bad U.S.-Latin American Policy Fuels Unauthorized Immigration

By Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Too often, the immigration debate in this country ignores the role U.S. foreign policy plays in fueling unauthorized immigration. But as the Obama administration continues to stall on immigration reform in the United States—all the while moving forward with two contentious trade agreements with Colombia and Panama—the connections between the two are worth examining.

CAFTA impoverished Salvadoran farmers

During President Obama’s tour of Latin America last month, ongoing mass protests underscored the U.S. government’s own hand in stimulating unauthorized immigration to its borders. Reporting on the president’s visit to El Salvador, for example, Juan Gonzales of Democracy Now! notes that hundreds of Salvadorans gathered to demand the renegotiation of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which devastated the country’s agricultural sector, impoverishing and displacing farmers. Considered alongside the country’s tragic history of U.S.-backed military repression (which Democracy Now! explores in greater detail), it should be no surprise that El Salvador is the second largest source of undocumented immigrants to the United States.

NAFTA displaces one million Mexican farmers

The first, of course, is Mexico—which has its own sordid history of U.S. involvement. As Michelle Chen at Colorlines.com explains, “the deregulation of agriculture under [the North American Free Trade Agreement in the 1990s] coincided with the devastation of Mexico’s farm sector, displacing some one million farmers and driving many northward across the border in search of work.”

While NAFTA created considerable economic opportunities for U.S. businesses eager to conduct business in low-wage Mexico, it also allowed American farmers to flood the Mexican market with government-subsidized corn—destroying the country’s own corn industry and bankrupting thousands of agricultural workers.

Obama’s 180 on Latin American policy

It’s worth noting that Obama, during his presidential campaign, promised to overhaul NAFTA on the grounds that “our trade agreements should not just be good for Wall Street, it [sic] should also be good for Main Street.” Yet, as Steve Ellner argues in the latest issue of In These Times, Obama gradually abandoned his initially critical stance on Latin American policy—choosing instead to “placate rightist critics.” Ellner adds that Obama’s shifting position on the pending (CAFTA-modeled) trade agreement with Colombia—moving “from opposition…to lukewarm endorsement…to vigorous support—is just one example of his turnabout on Latin American policy.”

While Obama has taken some steps to address potential labor abuses in the agreement (NAFTA and CAFTA’s absence of such measures is a key criticism of the deals), trade unionists in Colombia and the United States alike have voiced skepticism:

Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen argued against the agreement by pointing out that 15 million Colombians representing 82 percent of the working population are not recognized as workers and thus under the law “have no rights.”

Big Business funds paramilitary killings in Colombia

The skepticism is well founded, as the United States has a long history of favoring business interests over the rights of workers—both at home and abroad. Earlier this month, for instance, evidence surfaced that the Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands International may have hired Colombian paramilitary groups “responsible for countless killings” as security for its Colombian facilities. This is in spite of the fact that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) concluded an investigation of Chiquita in 2007, ruling that any money paid out to the paramilitary groups—one of which was a designated terrorist watch group—was extorted, and that “Chiquita never received any actual services in exchange for them.”

Jim Lobe and Aprille Muscara of Inter Press Service report that the documents were released by the National Security Archive (NSA), an independent research group, on the same day that President Obama met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to discuss labor rights in the pending trade agreement. According to Michael Evans, NSA’s chief researcher on Colombia, the evidence against Chiquita is clear.

“What we still don’t know is why U.S. prosecutors overlooked what appears to be clear evidence that Chiquita benefited from these transactions,” he told IPS.

U.S. banks launder billions for Mexican drug cartels

Even more recently, news broke that the federal government failed to prosecute a number of U.S. banks guilty of laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels. New America Media/Al Diá reports that Wachovia (now owned by Wells Fargo) alone moved $378.4 billion for cartels through money exchangers and $4.7 billion handled in bulk cash between 2004 and 2007. Yet this past March, the federal government formally dropped all charges against the bank, per a settle agreement reached the previous year, and despite Wachovia’s indirect role in financing a five-year drug war that has taken countless lives and continues to drive unauthorized immigration to the United States.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

The Myth of a Multiracial American Utopia

With the results of the 2010 Census slowly coming in, a number of news stories have focused on the growing number of multiracial Americans. They talk about, for instance, about an individual whose father of race A is and whose mother is of race B – and who identifies with neither race. America, the theme goes, is slowly becoming a nation of mixed-race people.

There is an earnest hope about these stories. The hope is that, as the number of multiracial Americans increases, there will eventually come a time when race does not matter. Everybody will eventually be multiracial, so nobody will think of race anymore.

It is an admirable dream.

Unfortunately, the dream of a multiracial society in which racism ceases to exist will probably remain just that – a dream. In fact, there are a number of mixed-race societies in the world. These are places such as Mexico or Brazil, products of centuries of mixing after the Spanish and Portuguese conquests. Indeed, Mexico and Brazil pride themselves on being multiracial. While Americans celebrate Columbus Day, countries in Latin America celebrate Dia de la Raza (although sometimes the name is different), commemorating the creation of a new Hispanic race.

Racism, unfortunately, still is quite prevalent in these mixed-race countries. The general rule is that the lighter a person’s skin, the better off they do. The political and economic elite invariably have the most European ancestry, despite being very much in the minority. The poor and needy always have more indigenous or African ancestry.

Take, for instance, the telenovelas that air on America’s Spanish-language channels. If one were to judge what a typical Hispanic-American looks like just by watching telenovelas, one would be forgiven for concluding that 50% of Hispanic-American women have blonde hair. No telenovela will ever have a main character whose skin is as dark as Hispanics in real-life.

Or take Brazil, another extremely multiracial society. Here is a picture of residents in a typical favela (Brazilian slum), taken by the New York Times.

Here is a picture of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (a leftist politician who herself, in all probability, strongly opposes racial discrimination).

Notice a difference?

The unfortunate, sad reality is that, judging by the examples of existing multiracial societies, a more multiracial America will not lead to racial harmony. Rather, as in Brazil or Mexico, those with the lightest skin will end up doing better than those with darker skin. Human nature is just too inherently suspicious of those who look different for racism to end merely by adding more people who look different.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

The Myth of a Multiracial American Utopia

With the results of the 2010 Census slowly coming in, a number of news stories have focused on the growing number of multiracial Americans. They talk about, for instance, about an individual whose father of race A is and whose mother is of race B – and who identifies with neither race. America, the theme goes, is slowly becoming a nation of mixed-race people.

There is an earnest hope about these stories. The hope is that, as the number of multiracial Americans increases, there will eventually come a time when race does not matter. Everybody will eventually be multiracial, so nobody will think of race anymore.

It is an admirable dream.

Unfortunately, the dream of a multiracial society in which racism ceases to exist will probably remain just that – a dream. In fact, there are a number of mixed-race societies in the world. These are places such as Mexico or Brazil, products of centuries of mixing after the Spanish and Portuguese conquests. Indeed, Mexico and Brazil pride themselves on being multiracial. While Americans celebrate Columbus Day, countries in Latin America celebrate Dia de la Raza (although sometimes the name is different), commemorating the creation of a new Hispanic race.

Racism, unfortunately, still is quite prevalent in these mixed-race countries. The general rule is that the lighter a person’s skin, the better off they do. The political and economic elite invariably have the most European ancestry, despite being very much in the minority. The poor and needy always have more indigenous or African ancestry.

Take, for instance, the telenovelas that air on America’s Spanish-language channels. If one were to judge what a typical Hispanic-American looks like just by watching telenovelas, one would be forgiven for concluding that 50% of Hispanic-American women have blonde hair. No telenovela will ever have a main character whose skin is as dark as Hispanics in real-life.

Or take Brazil, another extremely multiracial society. Here is a picture of residents in a typical favela (Brazilian slum), taken by the New York Times.

Here is a picture of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (a leftist politician who herself, in all probability, strongly opposes racial discrimination).

Notice a difference?

The unfortunate, sad reality is that, judging by the examples of existing multiracial societies, a more multiracial America will not lead to racial harmony. Rather, as in Brazil or Mexico, those with the lightest skin will end up doing better than those with darker skin. Human nature is just too inherently suspicious of those who look different for racism to end merely by adding more people who look different.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

Weekly Diaspora: Texas Excludes Low-Income Latinos from Census, Expedites Visas for Wealthy Mexican Immigrants

By Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Newly released census figures show that the Latino population in the United States surged by 43 percent in the last 10 years, comprising 50 million people. According to New America Media’s Nina Martin, this marks the first decade since the 1960s when the number of Latino births exceeded the number of immigrants. But, the this increase notwithstanding, it seems that a sizable portion of the Latino population may not have been counted at all.

As Claudio Rowe reports at Equal Voice Newspaper / New America Media, officials in Hidalgo County, Texas, are planning to sue the federal government for failing to count as many as 300,000 Texas residents living along the U.S.-Mexico border. The residents, most of whom live in unincorporated subdivisions called colonias, are predominately U.S.-born Latinos (65 percent). Though community organizers spent months preparing families to participate in the census, the federal government failed to mail census forms to 95 percent of colonia residents—allegedly deeming them “hard to count.” The omission could lose the state tens of millions of dollars in social services funding over the next decade.

But that’s not all, as Rowe explains:

Aside from money, census undercounts can drastically affect political representation by triggering the redrawing of electoral districts. So across the nation, inaccurate population figures could affect elections for thousands of government offices over the next 10 years – everything from school board members to state representatives.

Texas redistricting discounts Latino population

In large part because of high Latino population growth, in fact, Texas is set to gain four new congressional districts—and the battle over their geographic make-up has already begun, despite the likely exclusion of several hundred thousand Texans.

Patrick Brendel of The American Independent notes that, while U.S. Reps. Lamar Smith (R) and Joe Barton (R) feud over whether the new districts should favor a particular political party, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) has filed a redistricting lawsuit against state leaders, alleging “that the population numbers being used for the State’s 2011 redistricting process “severely undercounts Latinos.” MALC’s petition adds:

“The creation of redistricting plans for Texas election districts using the defective 2010 census data discriminates against Latino voters and is not legally enforceable.”

Opponents argue that non-citizens shouldn’t be included in the census at all, because redrawing political districts to accommodate undocumented populations dilutes the voting power of actual citizens. How the U.S.-born colonia residents who were excluded from this census fit into that schema, however, remains unclear.

The whole debacle does elucidate one important point, though: Low-income Latinos and undocumented migrants are similarly marginalized by both state and local governments—regardless of their citizenship status.

Texas welcomes wealthy Mexican immigrants, rejects working class undocumented

At the Texas Observer, Melissa Del Bosque reinforces that point when she notes that, while U.S. immigration policy has grown increasingly hostile towards Mexican immigrants in general, the government has been remarkably accommodating toward wealthy Mexican immigrants. She reports that Texas border cities are doing everything they can to encourage Mexican investment in the state, even brokering deals with the federal government to expedite visas for wealthy investors eager to flee Mexico’s security crisis:

“If you are in Mexico City you would call Progreso Bridge and say, this is our credit card number, this is our plane, this is who is on it,” Hernan Gonzalez, the Weslaco EDC executive director, told the McAllen Monitor. “They would already be in a registry … and then the officers would come and clear you based upon when you are going to land.”

By contrast, only 2 percent of the 11,000 Mexicans who have sought asylum from cartel violence gained entry into the United States, according to the Texas Observer’s Susana Hayward. Del Bosque adds that “Mexicans who invest $500,000 or more in a company that creates at least 10 jobs can obtain U.S. residency in a matter of months,” thereby avoiding the growing immigration case backlog in the United States. (As of February 2011, the average waiting period for immigration cases was 467 days—a 44 percent increase since 2008.)

It’s a stark reminder that the escalating furor over immigration reform is as much about class as it is about race, nationality or culture.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

The 4 million women you can thank for your last meal

From the Restore Fairness blog-

They’re the backbone of our food supply. Their hands sliced the chicken breast we had for lunch. Their sweat brought the fresh tomato to our plates. Their backs bent to pick the lettuce in our salads. They are America’s undocumented workers.

Every day, on farms and factories across America, millions of women work to produce billions of dollars worth of fruit and vegetables that fill our stores and kitchens and nourish our children. At least 6 out of every 10 farm workers in this country are undocumented, and almost all of them live on the fringes of society, earning below minimum wage and facing humiliation, exploitation and sexual assault from their employers on a regular basis.

According to a new report, ‘Injustice on Our Plates,’ published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the 4.1 million undocumented women living and working in the U.S. are among the lowest paid and most vulnerable members of our society. These women form the backbone of the agricultural system in this country, looking after their families, often working weeks without getting paid, working in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, with little or no recourse to any protection against the indignities they suffer at the workplace. They live in constant fear of being discovered and sent back to their home countries, with the looming threat of being separated from their children, many of whom are American born. It is grossly unfair that while contributing as much as $1.5 billion a year to the Medicare system and $7 billion a year to the Social Security system, undocumented immigrants will never be able to collect benefits upon retirement.

The report was compiled by SPLC researchers who conducted extensive interviews with 150 women from Mexico, Guatemala and other Latin-American countries who are or have been undocumented, and are working in the food industry, picking tomatoes, apples, green beans, lettuce, etc. in places like Arkansas, California, Florida, Iowa, New York and North Carolina. From a CNN article about the report-

Regardless of what sector of the food industry these women worked in, they all reported feeling like they were seen by their employers as disposable workers with no lasting value, to be squeezed of every last drop of sweat and labor before being cast aside.

Interviewed for the report, a woman called Maria reported being paid as little as 45 cents for each 32-pound bucket that she filled with tomatoes, and said that one employer did not allow his workers to go to the bathroom during their work-shifts. Olivia, a 46-year old meatpacker who came to the U.S. from Mexico to run away from her abusive husband and build a better life for herself, told the SPLC the horrific story of how she was raped by one of her supervisors after working a 12-hour shift. When she tried to report the incident to the senior management, her complaints were met with the retort, “What is so bad about that? He left you in one piece, didn’t he?” Despite extreme medical injuries and severe emotional trauma from the attack, Olivia was too scared to report the rape to the police out of fear that her immigrant status would be found out and she would be deported. Like countless women in similar circumstances, she was bound by the desperate need to work in order to look after her daughter and her parents who depended on her, and she had no option but to continue working for the man that beat her unconscious and raped her. The new report tells us that Olivia’s story is not the anomaly, but the norm-

Undocumented immigrant women are, in most cases, virtually powerless to protect themselves against such attacks…Some feel too much shame to report harassment or sexual violence, leaving them extremely vulnerable to exploitation by male co-workers or supervisors…Their abusers use their lack of legal status against them, knowing they are not likely to report sexual harassment or even violent attacks. Because of the many obstacles arrayed against them — fear, poverty, shame, lack of access to legal resources, language barriers, immigration status and cultural pressures — few immigrant women ever come forward to speak out against the wrongs committed against them. Too often, they are forced to compromise their dignity — to endure sexual harassment and exploitation — to obtain a better life and a measure of economic security for themselves and their families.

These women are economic refugees, running away from lives beneath the poverty line, hunger and desperation in their home countries, with the hope of working hard to provide their children with basic amenities like education, health and stability. The fact that such injustice and degradation is suffered by tens of thousands of hard-working women in this country on a regular basis is horrific and shameful on a number of levels. These women, responsible for putting food on our tables, are part of a systemic malady that is only getting worse. This is indicative of the sad irony of a world where high-level trade and capital move across borders with uncanny speed and ease, lining the pockets of nations and people in power, while the hands that build these “globalized” empires are forced to remain circumscribed within their lot, regardless of how unfair a lot it might be.

Deporting all 10.8 million undocumented immigrants would cost the economy over $2.6 trillion over the next ten years, not to mention the huge human rights violations that would occur as a result. Moreover, legalizing undocumented workers would raise the U.S. gross domestic product by $1.5 trillion over a decade. The report stresses the importance of immigration reform that would address these injustices in a way that is comprehensive, while respecting fundamental American values of dignity and justice.

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org

 

 

 

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