Immigration and Economic Problems Caused by NAFTA

This year marks NAFTA’s 20th anniversary (it was signed on December 12, 1992 and implemented in 1994). We find no reason to celebrate the occasion.

How has NAFTA impacted us?  The goal of NAFTA was to eliminate barriers with trading and investment between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. While NAFTA may have helped boost intraregional trade between Canada, Mexico, and the United States, it has not generated the jobs and the deeper regional economic integration its advocates promised decades ago. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, “overall, the NAFTA deal has only expanded U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) very slightly, with a similarly small and positive effect on the Canadian and Mexican economies.”

One lofty, unrealized promise of NAFTA was that the treaty would narrow the gap between the per capita incomes of Mexico, the United States, and Canada. Per capita income in Mexico rose at an annual average of 1.2 percent over the past two decades, from $6,932 in 1994 to $8,397 in 2012, far slower than Latin American countries such as Brazil, Chile, and Peru. NAFTA was also expected to discourage Mexican emigration to the United States, yet despite the 2007–2009 recession and increased deportations, Mexican-born people living in the United States doubled since 1994 to 12 million in 2013, writes Jorge G. Castañeda, a professor at New York University and former foreign minister of Mexico.

On the immigration front, NAFTA has been a failure.  More Mexicans have been deported per year during each post-1994 administration than ever.  NAFTA allows professionals from Canada and Mexico to come in with three-year work visas and, yet, we are importing the highest number of professionals (from other continents) through the H-1B, which has a yearly ceiling of 65,000.  

Illegal immigration from Mexico to the U.S. is a response to a structural problem that hasn’t been resolved in an intelligent way, for professionals and non-professionals alike. Why aren’t we importing more Canadian and Mexican professionals?  Why aren’t we facilitating legal foreign non-professional labor (next door) for our industries?  

Why and how are illegal immigrants coming in and getting jobs?  If economic conditions had improved in Mexico after the implementation of NAFTA, we wouldn’t continue to see ever-increasing numbers of Mexicans risk everything to illegally cross our borders.

Why aren’t we facing the social and psychological devastation our trade and immigration policies are causing families who are separated by the border?

Last weekend, potential 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush braved controversy to speak to this issue. In a political arena so often dominated by black-and-white statistics and inflexible ideology, Bush spoke about humanity and heart.

In an interview Sunday with Fox News host Shannon Bream, Mr. Bush said that illegal immigrants who come to the United States to provide for their families are not committing a felony but an “act of love.”

He continued, “I think we need to kind of get beyond the harsh political rhetoric to a better place. I’m going to say this and it will be on tape and so be it. The way I look at this is someone who comes to our country because they couldn’t come legally … and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work, to be able to provide for their family, yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love, it’s an act of commitment to your family.”  

He added, “I honestly think that it is a different kind of crime. There should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families.”

Bush’s comments point to structural and systemic problems resulting from policies such as NAFTA while encouraging us to have compassion for people hurt by these policies. We must not punish undocumented immigrants so harshly – locking them in detention, deporting and dividing them from their families – while we fail to address the reasons why they are here in the first place. Illegal immigration is a symptom of much deeper, systemic economic problems.

We cannot continue to destroy the lives of people who are already struggling so hard against a broken system. It is nothing short of tragic when parents are punished or separated from their families when they were simply desperate to feed and clothe their children. Our immigration policies must honor families and allow them to remain united, and we must not allow our trade agreements to cause economic problems that spur people to risk their lives for a chance at a better life.  

Our failure to recognize that we have a regional labor market has led to devastating effects on family.  Mexico offers workers and we offer jobs. We must re-align our economic agenda to fit this reality.

We thank you, political leaders, who show compassion and understanding when you craft or vote on legislation.

At Margaret A. Donnelly, P.C., uniting families is our top priority. We are grateful to all who value this priority.

If you need the help of an immigration attorney, please contact us today to schedule your consultation. 

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