Immigration and Trade

by Tammy Alexander

A man and his wife leave their home during a famine and settle in a new place where they are regarded as “aliens.” They plant crops, have a good harvest, and enjoy economic prosperity.

A pregnant woman flees conflict and economic hardship in her homeland and, with her husband and several other family members, travel across an ocean to make a new life in a strange land.

Two young men leave their homeland in search of work to support their mother, who is sick and needs medicine.

The first account above is from the story of Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis, chapter 26. In the second story, Elizabeth Buhler, a Russian Mennonite, left the post-revolution turmoil in Ukraine in 1925 to make a new home in Canada. The third story was of two teenage boys who, in 2004, left their family farm in Mexico to find work in the United States.

Throughout history, people have migrated for various reasons, often referred to as “push” and “pull” factors. The factors that “push” people to uproot their families and leave home include violent conflict, natural disasters, and economic distress. The dynamics that “pull” migrants to the U.S. include economic opportunity and safety.

The third story above provides one stark example of how U.S. trade policies such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are “pushing” people to the United States. The two teenage boys in the story, ages 14 and 16, grew up in Chiapas State in southern Mexico, expecting to become farmers like their father and grandfather before them. But, like millions of other family farmers in Mexico in the wake of NAFTA, they found themselves unable to compete with cheap and heavily subsidized corn imports from the U.S.

Hoping to find work at a poultry plant in the U.S., the boys left their home and school, risking detention and death to cross the border without proper documentation. They were doing what young men do to help their mother. They weren’t looking for a handout. They weren’t drug smugglers. They were trying to find honest work to provide for their family.

NAFTA was supposed to reduce undocumented immigration from Mexico. Between 1990 and 2000, however, the number of undocumented Mexican immigrants in the U.S. doubled. While NAFTA allows for the free movement of goods, labor movements are highly restricted (9,247 Mexicans were admitted into the U.S. for temporary employment under NAFTA during the 2006 fiscal year). Meanwhile, debates over immigration policy in the U.S. have continued as if trade agreements have no effect on waves of undocumented immigration.

Call on Congress and the Obama administration to pass sensible, fair trade policies (p. 10) and to consider these root causes part of a comprehensive immigration reform effort.

Visit for more information on immigration advocacy.

Victor Reyes Deramona left his family and his farm in Teticic, Mexico and migrated to the United States in order to make a living. “I would rather be here in Tecticic. But there’s no money for living,” explains Deramona. (Story featured in the September/October 2006 issue of A Common Place magazine.)


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