Policy Page: Immigration

Here in North Carolina, we are experiencing a rapid influx of people from Mexico and Central America. The most profound population change, it is said, since Europeans began to immigrate to the New World. The number of recent Hispanic immigrants in North Carolina, alone, is fast approaching 400,000. Mexican people are streaming north in growing numbers because of severe economic hardship in part caused by the imposition of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) in 1994.

Nearly half the Mexican population now lives in poverty an increase of 31% since 1993. Workers’ wages have declined by 60% in two years. To be approved for NAFTA, Mexico altered its constitution that historically had protected poor and small farmers through the ejido system. The change forced thousands of poor farmers off their land. Thousands are migrating to the U.S. seeking economic survival as a direct result of NAFTA.

Here in North Carolina, our churches, schools and social service agencies are not prepared to receive these Spanish-speaking people. There is great need to work in cross-cultural communication, to build bridges of understanding among African-Americans, Euro-Americans and our new Hispanic brothers and sisters.

For too long,the immigration debate has revolved around border walls, deportations and domestic policies that are not only cruel and ineffective but also fail to recognize the root cause of migration.  

In Latin America, free trade policies like CAFTA and NAFTA have failed to generate new jobs.  At the same time, these policies make small farming obsolete and force people to migrate in search of work. 

For example, the influx of subsidized grains from the U.S. to Mexico under NAFTA decimated at least two million farming jobs.  Now, every hour Mexico imports $1.5 million worth of food. In that same hour, 30 Mexican farmers migrate to the U.S. looking for work.

Although U.S. economic policies force people to leave their homes in search of work, domestic immigration policy treats immigrants as criminals and has entire communities living in fear. 

The debate about comprehensive immigration reform must include discussions about the roots of migration and changing U.S. economic policy in Latin America. Therefore, in addition to supporting domestic immigration policy reform, Witness for Peace compels government decision-makers to block new free trade agreements and change the U.S. trade policies that contribute to migration.

Witness for Peace also brings delegates to Mexico and Nicaragua to research and understand the economic policies and corporate practices that drive people north. Local leaders from the U.S. visit sending communities and return to their homes equipped to improve immigrant relations and advocate for humane immigration policies.