Arizona has just passed “the nation’s toughest immigration law, one that gives the police broad power to stop people on suspicion of being here illegally.” (From Welcome to Arizona, Outpost of Contradictions – NYTimes.com.)
There are MANY angles from which to approach this story: economics, race/ethnicity, “legality”, religious injunctions, and more. In this longer-than-usual post, I am commenting on the economic underpinnings of the issue.
Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator for the Presbyterian Church (USA), has written a letter to congress, along with two other top officials in his denomination. Read it at his blog. On his facebook page, he asked people under 30 to comment, which I am and did. (Bruce pastors Mission Bay Community Church in San Francisco, and he sorta’-kinda’ knows me.)
Here’s my basic question: Why are we okay with commodities moving freely across the border (via NAFTA) and not okay with PEOPLE moving freely across the border?
Very few people, neither the so-called conservative nor so-called liberals, are seriously asking WHY people are crossing the border from Latin American into the United States. Perhaps because if the question WAS asked, the answer would be a little self-condemning. The United States has long-pushed for international trade laws that severely damage the economies of Latin America.
First, we knock down the borders for TRADE (but not for people), so that companies based in the United States can set up plants in Mexico and reap the benefits of lower wages for workers and fewer laws supporting workers’ rights. And because of what capitalism inherently is, the value of a worker’s labor is transferred into commodities and profits, which in this case both flow into the United States. If the value of labor, as transferred into commodities and profits, actually stayed in the country (Mexico, etc.), then Latin American countries wouldn’t be in such incredible debt and poverty. (To make matters worse, Mexican corn farmers are forced into these factory jobs when US-government-subsidized corn is sent to Mexico and sold for LESS than the local corn. Such “free trade” puts the local farmers out of business.)
But a second step is essential for making this system work: Strong National Borders. The workers have to be forced to stay in the country that has low wages and weak labor laws. Otherwise, the profits can’t be as large for the international corporations, because, for example, Mexican factory laborers could travel to the United States and vote to change the laws affecting the US-based corporation owning their factory. (They could force the company to pay higher wages, etc.) Strong national borders essential amount to forcing the (wage) slaves to stay on the plantation and live in shacks, while the master lives in the mansion. I’m not exaggerating. The slave system in the Southeastern USA was merely a simpler form of modern-day capitalism: Concentrated wealth at the expense of the majority.
So, back to my question: Why are people crossing the border into the United States? Because we have the commodities and profits from their labor. The vast majority of immigrants are poor workers looking for jobs, because even the exploitative jobs and living conditions in the United States are better than what’s being offered outside our borders. It’s the modern-day equivalent of running away from the slave plantation.
The question for Christians is: Will we be abolitionists of exploitative labor, conductors on the underground railroad, or will we be the slaveholders and their supporters? Historically, Christians have stood on both sides of this fence, or should I say ‘border’.
Just got to this today. The whole thing makes me extremely sad. What’s clear, and which you are right to assume, is that a reading of the economics here is fundamental to understanding what’s going on.