War On Poverty, Not Immigrants
By Jesse Jackson
29 March, 2006
Chicago Sun Times
"Sa se puede!" Yes
we can. They marched by the hundreds of thousands in Los Angeles, by
the tens of thousands in Milwaukee, in Phoenix, in New York. Across
the country, Hispanics dramatically entered what has been an increasingly
ugly debate about immigration in this country.
Rep. Tom Tancredo is gaining
national attention railing against undocumented immigrants. He wants
them turned into felons, a wall built along our border to keep them
out, police dispatched to send them home. He does not bother to tell
us how he plans to transport 11 million estimated undocumented workers
out of the country. Nor what will happen to the millions of their children
who were born here and are American citizens.
Senate leader Bill Frist
is doing his own Tancredo. Efforts by Senators Kennedy and McCain to
fashion a compromise look likely to fail in the face of the furies.
President Bush has offered an employers bill -- why does this not surprise?
He'd increase enforcement at the border, but create a guest worker program
so that employers could ship low wage immigrants in, so long as they
promise to boot them out when they've finished exploiting them.
When employers brought slaves
to America, few objected as long as they were prepared to work without
wages and without rights. When they began to demand equal rights, all
hell broke loose. No one minded when Mexican farm workers came to pick
the crops, do the lawns, clean the houses. When they started to demand
the right to citizenship, to vote, to organize -- the furor started.
American workers are sensibly
worried that the flood of immigrant labor will bring lower wages as
part of the global race to the bottom. But their complaint is with employers
who prefer undocumented workers whom they can exploit without complaint,
and with federal and state authorities who turn a blind eye to that
There is no way anyone is
going to locate, arrest, detain and ship millions of undocumented workers
out of America. Our choice is whether we want to maintain permanently
a large underclass of undocumented workers that can be easily exploited
by cynical employers, and slurred by callous politicians -- or whether
we want to fulfill America's promise by providing them with a road to
citizenship, benefitting from their willingness to work, pay taxes and
How do we stop our country
from being overrun by impoverished immigrants if we offer them pathways
to citizenship? There is only one way -- and it is not mentioned in
this debate. We passed a treaty called NAFTA with Mexico and Canada
that guaranteed rights to employers and investors but not to workers.
The results have been catastrophic. Wages in Mexico, the United States
and Canada have fallen. Mexico now exports more cars to the United States
than the United States exports to the world -- all made by U.S. companies
benefitting from cheap labor in Mexico. And U.S. food exports have displaced
millions of poor Mexican peasants and driven them from their communities.
They don't come to the United States because they want to leave their
homes. They come desperate for work.
The only way to stop the
flood of immigrants is to help lift their standards up, rather than
drive ours down. When Europe created one trading union including impoverished
Spain and Portugal, the high wage countries of the north spent billions
on development in the poorer countries, while demanding that they adhere
to labor rights, environmental protections and basic social protections.
While those countries still are not as wealthy as those in the north,
their people were given hope and opportunity -- and would much prefer
to stay home.
We can spend billions trying
to lock immigrants out and hold those that come in down. Or we can devote
energy and resources now wasted on a civil war in Iraq to help lift
our neighbors up, gain real trading partners and significantly reduce
the misery that drives people from their homes.
Potential presidential candidates
like Frist, Tancredo and even supposedly straight-talking John McCain
won't say anything like this. But that's the truth. And in the end,
it is the truth, and only the truth, that will set you free.
© 2006 The Sun-Times