Friday, September 21, 2018

The Who and Why of Immigration

The history of immigration in Southern California is quite interesting, and shows just how arbitrary the concerns of nationalism are. The first "illegal immigrants" to cross the border in this par

The history of immigration in Southern California is quite interesting, and shows just how arbitrary the concerns of nationalism are. The first "illegal immigrants" to cross the border in this part of the world were in fact U.S. citizens, and they were going against a bill which made it illegal for them to cross into Mexico.

Originally, when the first U.S. citizens came west into the land of Mexico, they were there as outsiders trying to fit in. They accepted the customs of the land, and settled down to become a part of the culture around them. These first settlers were treated cordially by the government, and even given land grants to aid them in their endeavors. This did not last long, however, as once this land became known to the east coast, more and more people flooded out west. After the initial wave, the mindset of the settlers changed. They had been inundated with talk of manifest destiny, and looked at the land as their God given right. They looked disdainfully at the Mexican population and their laid-back attitude towards the abundance around them. They seemed to the U.S. citizens as though they cared more about relaxing and parties than they did about tilling the land. In fact, witnessing this, one of the newcomers exclaimed,"in the hands of an enterprising people, what a country this might be!"

The flood soon became so large that it captured the attention of the Mexican government. On seeing the swarms of U.S. citizens moving into Mexico, the government set up a commission to investigate the matter. As the commission was drawing to an end, one of the commissioners noted, "The Americans from the north have taken possession of practically all the eastern part of Texas, in most cases without the permission of the authorities. They immigrate constantly, finding no one to prevent them, and take possession of the sitio that best suits them without either asking leave or going through any formality other than that of building their homes."

In 1830 the government decided to close the border to these U.S. citizens, which stirred a great amount of debate. The opponents of the closing of the border declared that the immigrants had,"made great improvements in the past seven or eight years: they have raised cotton and cane and erected gins and sawmills." This language is reminiscent of statements being made in the same area 160 years later by opponents of the border being closed from the other side.

The call of manifest destiny was so strong that the U.S. decided to go to war with Mexico. The war ended in 1848 a few months after General Winfield Scott's army occupied Mexico City. In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico accepted the Rio Grande as the Texas border and ceded the Southwest territories to the United States for $15 million. This area was about one million square miles and consisted of half of Mexico. The land is now present-day California, New Mexico, Nevada, and parts of Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. This had immense impact on the current residents of this area of the world. All of a sudden thousands of Mexicans found themselves in the United States. The treaty allowed them to stay, and if they did they would be guaranteed "the enjoyment of all the rights of citizens of the United States according to the principles of the Constitution." They had become foreigners in their own land.

Although the treaty guaranteed them rights, it ended up being in theory only. One law after another made it increasingly hard for them to truly have any rights. They were allowed to vote, but if anyone they voted for ever made it to power, the U.S. citizens would respond with a revolt and overthrow that person, commenting that they were "opposed to allowing an ignorant crowd of Mexicans to determine the political questions in this country, where a man is supposed to vote knowingly and thoughtfully."

Political restrictions also affected the rights of the Mexican-American citizens to own property, even though Article X in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo specifically guaranteed protection of "all prior and pending titles to property of every description." The U.S. Senate omitted this article in ratifying this treaty however.

Only 3 years after the Treaty the government established a law testing the validity of land ownership. The test required information that the landowners previously did not need and was also extremely hard to establish with the lack of English proficiency, and they often lost their land. An observer in 1910 noted that, "The Mexicans have sold the great share of their landholdings and some work as day laborers on what once belonged to them. How sad this truth!" Once the majority of the landholdings had been appropriated, they then needed someone to work that land. This job fell to those whose very land had been taken from them. As early as the 1880s they were doing jobs which, "it is difficult to get white men to work, the wages being only $1.50 a day, and board $5 per week with some minor charges, which reduce a man's net earnings." As we will see, this fact has changed very little in the past 120 years. This was what the country had become in the hands of the "enterprising people."

This history shows how arbitrary the nation-state borders are, and how rarely people take note of these imaginary lines, especially if they had lived their whole lives inside one set of lines, to suddenly find themselves in the middle of a completely different set.
It is not a recent development for people to cross over "illegally"into another land. The major difference, however, is the purpose with which the U.S. citizens crossed over illegally into Mexico. Their belief in manifest destiny caused them to look at the land as given to them by God. Therefore they felt no remorse forcefully taking the land from the original inhabitants. The illegal immigrants of today, however, have a much different story. The trek across the border is extremely treacherous and they often risk their lives in doing it. The forces that drive them across are much more drastic than a belief that the land was given them by God. Their purpose for crossing is to stay alive, and to keep their families alive; and the reason they need to cross a border to stay alive is in large part due to business practices done on those countries in the name of global capitalism; the second major principality in the issue of immigration.

Global Capitalism and the Influx in Immigration

The three most prominent and integral proponents of this neoliberal economic system are the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank. On a most basic level, neoliberal economics means, withdrawing the state as much as possible from participation in the economy, opening domestic markets at least in principle to international trade and foreign investment, privatizing investment in public utilities and natural resources, ending most protective labor laws, enacting powerful domestic and international safeguards for private property rights, including, above all, "intellectual property rights," and enforcing conservative fiscal policies [often] at the expense of the public's health and welfare.

Any one country that focuses on this type of economic strategy will see a constant increase in poverty and homelessness. Cutting back on state run programs also cuts back on the ability for those on the bottom rung of society to keep holding on. Although not the original intent of this type of economics, it almost always runs the economy at the expense of the most vulnerable. When this economic theory is expounded to a global level, the affects are also global. It seems almost contingent on the poorest countries being exploited for the sake of the larger countries, which has drastic consequences for the population of those poorer countries. As the Nobel-Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz states, "it is now a commonplace that the international trade agreements about which the United States spoke so proudly only a few years ago were grossly unfair to countries in the Third World." The problem [with globalists is] "their fundamentalist market ideology, a faith in free, unfettered markets that is supported by neither modern theory nor historical experience."

In an economic system where the profit margins are the most important aspect, those on top will not want to be joined on top, as that will cut back on their profit margins. This leads the more powerful organizations to become increasingly more and more powerful in an attempt to attain a monopoly or oligopoly. This has happened time and again in the United States, and is what is true currently. In every area there will only be a few powerful organizations that control everything. In the United States there are only 5 organizations that control almost the entire mass media. This includes everything from National Geographic to the news to every program and movie we watch. The same is also true with food, produce, almost everything. This trend carries over on a global level as well, and the end product is a few countries in the world that control everything. And as Friedrich List comments, "it is a very common clever device that when anyone has attained the summit of greatness, [s]he kicks away the ladder by which [s]he has climbed up, in order to deprive others the means of climbing up after [her]." When the power resides in the hands of the few, they can do whatever they please to ensure both greater profit margins and that no one climbs up after them.

In order to ensure that no one climbs up after them, the IMF and the World Bank were introduced on the scene. Although both the IMF and World Bank have names which make them sound global, they are actually surrogates of the United States Treasury and can do nothing without the approval of the Treasury. The role of the IMF was to make loans "to redress occasional imbalances between one nation's currency and that of its trading partners; and the World Bank was given responsibility for making developmental loans to countries that needed to invest in their infrastructures and infant industries in hopes of bringing them up to the level of the advanced nations." Soon, however, the U.S. could not keep fixed exchange rates (which the function of the IMF and World Bank depended on) because it did not have the finances to back it up, which put the IMF and World Bank out of business for a short time. The lack of fixed rates encouraged some organizations, specifically U.S. banks, to make risky loans to "developing countries." They would loan money that they did not have to "developing"countries, knowing that either the countries would have to pay them back or someone would step in for those countries and pay off the debt. Out of this was born the incredible debt in most of Africa and South America. Once some of those countries went bankrupt, like Mexico in 1982, the U.S. did in fact step in, not to help Mexico, but to ensure that the U.S. banks did not collapse.

Following this, the U.S. decided to put both the IMF and World Bank on debt patrol. From this command was born the structural adjustment programs and loans. Through this, the World Bank lends funds to debtor nations provided that they make structural adjustments in line with neoliberal economic thought. This usually means that the countries crack down on welfare, public health and other government funded aid. This money that they save from not aiding the poor is then used to pay back the banks that originally loaned the bad money. It also forces the country to cease subsidies to agriculture and to allow foreign owned businesses to buy state-owned enterprises such as the telephone company.

If a debtor nation does not accept these terms, all access to international capital is denied it, thereby destabilizing its economy still further and perhaps setting it up for a CIA-abetted coup d'etat. The overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973 and the installation of the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet were an early and classic example of this process

This forces the countries to rely on the western powers for almost every need, and often causes economic collapses. The most ironic thing about this is that none of the "developed" nations followed any of these rules that they are imposing. All of the nations that are currently developed became that way by having an incredibly protected domestic market during their years of growth. Almost without exception these countries did not accept trade with other countries until they had established a healthy domestic market by which to trade. Normally they did this by using foreign technology and adapting it to their country.

The U.S. government was not done, however, as it became more and more determined to impose neoliberal economics around the world. The World Trade Organization was formed in 1995 to aid this determination under the guise that it was simply to establish a common set of trade rules and to bring agriculture under those rules. As Walden Bello comments, "many developing countries discovered that in signing on to the WTO, they had signed away their right to development." What the WTO basically established was that governments in Third World Countries could not protect their agriculture, even though there were no representatives of Third World Countries at the meeting that established this. It was basically only the two agriculturally competing superpowers, the U.S. and the European Union. The result was that organizations from these superpowers flooded into "developing" countries and set up agribusiness, which forced native farmers off their land and into the cities. They also set up patent restrictions whereby the Third World countries would not be able to use the technology of the "developed" nations; once again kicking away the ladder so that others might not climb up it. This information is only now becoming well known thanks to the 2000 Meltzer Report which was mandated by the U.S. Congress and concluded that the IMF institutionalized economic stagnation. It also said that both institutions are driven to a great extent by the interests of key political and economic institutions in the Group of Seven countries particularly, in the case of the IMF, the U.S. government, and U.S. financial interests.

Often countries would be alright economically until the IMF and World Bank stepped in and asked them to cut back on aid to the poor. The entire structure of both of those organizations was aimed precisely at keeping the "developing" countries from actually developing. Not only that, but through the WTO it allowed foreign agribusiness into these countries which put thousands of people out of work and out of food. Almost every country in South America has been negatively affected by the policies associated with global capitalism. Mexico is just one case on which I will focus my attention.
For the majority of the 20th century Mexico was relatively economically stable. As mentioned above, the loans from U.S. banks forced it into debt around 1982. The IMF and WB stepped in to do the typical structural adjustments supposedly for the benefit of Mexico, and the country fell apart. It became almost completely dependent on foreign imports, with 40 percent of beans, 25 percent of corn and 30 percent of sugar being consumed coming from imports. The result of this is that thousands had to leave their original lives as farmers and move to the city which does not have enough jobs for everyone. Poverty has become rampant in Mexico, causing people to have to leave if they want to stay alive. The only way to survive for the majority of the recently jobless is to migrate north into the United States of America.

Capitalism is not only the source of the influx in immigration, but also the source of people's response to this immigration. There has been much debate recently over what to do about the immigrant problem. This had been an ongoing theme in the U.S. since it was founded; however, it has become prominent again today. And once again the debate is concerned with what immigration means for their wallets. In fact, the TIME article on immigration has a section entitled just that, "What it Means for Your Wallet." The entire article traces the debate about whether or not immigration should be allowed based on the affects of it on the economy. Rarely do I read a comment that speaks about individuals, or faces.

It seems as though the impact of talking about global capitalism and World Trade Organization is that it also lacks faces. It looks at generalities, and how awful things are happening to countries. However it is not the fact that awful things are happening to countries that should worry the Church, but the fact that awful things are happening to individual people.

The story of Francisco, an 18 year old Mixtec working in the Strawberry fields of San Diego brings a face to these concepts. He was originally from a village in Tecomaxtlahuaca, western Oaxaca, named San Sebastian where he lived with his parents. He had crossed the border illegally when his family no longer had enough to live on. Although he does not mention it, from the study on the conditions in Mexico, most likely his family was subsistence farmers. From this work they would produce enough food to live, and perhaps sell the little excess in order to provide other necessities that they could not grow. With the introduction of the policies of the WTO, agribusiness took over the majority of farms in Mexico. This caused a huge amount of poverty with the farmers who could not sell their goods cheap enough to compete against the commercial farms. Specific to the Mixtec, they also had to deal with soil erosion which led to very low crop yields for those who still had farms. The family would have needed food to survive and would have to buy that food from the commercial farms that had taken over their land. Francisco would have then been forced, for the sake of his life and the life of his family, to find some other means of sustenance. Hearing about the "land of opportunity" to the north, he made his way there. Although he did not mention being in debt to a coyote, that is the standard mode of travel for the undocumented.

Often these coyotes will gather together a group of people who want to cross the border and charge them each a hefty sum, normally around $1800. This will usually come with neither a guarantee of safety across the border, nor a guarantee of a job on the other side. Putting their lives in the hands of this man, they will make the treacherous journey through the desert in the hopes that they will find some type of work. When they reach the United States they come upon the realization that the jobs waiting there are not full of promise, but are still better than where they came from. The majority of immigrants will migrate into agricultural jobs across the country, they will work for sweatshop pay sewing clothes for all of the name-brand clothing companies, they will clean toilets, clean hotels, and do construction. And they will pick strawberries in strawberry fields, one of the most grueling jobs in agriculture. A job so grueling that a strawberry farm owner named Doug commented, "I've picked strawberries, and let me tell you, there is no harder work. I respect these people. They work damn hard. And my jobs are open to anyone who wants to apply. Every so often college kids visit the ranch, convinced that picking strawberries would be a nice way to earn some extra money' they don't last an hour out here."

Francisco had spent the last year picking strawberries and saving money. By the end of the year he had saved up $800, all of which he wired back to his mother and father in the village. When he wasn't at the farm picking strawberries he was at the temporary encampment as he was too tired and too afraid of getting caught to go anywhere else. He would pick strawberries six times a week, sometimes for ten to twelve hours a day. The encampment in which they lived was hidden amongst brush and trees because the landowner did not know they lived there. Garbage was piled high everywhere, and shacks dotted the area. Francisco shared his shack with two other men, and although he had a good blanket, when it rained the roof leaked and he would go to work soaking wet in the morning. He had never lived this way before coming to the United States; "the land of opportunity."

Although Francisco is unique with unique needs, his story is not unique. The Mixtec make up the majority of workers in the agriculture of California. The majority of them send money home as well, indicating that most immigrants are here only for their survival and that of their family. In fact, "they sent back a record $20-billion last year, making remittances Mexico's second-largest source of income, second only to oil exports."

If you were to walk into any building in the Fashion District of downtown LA you will meet people working extremely hard for very little, attempting to support their families back in their home countries. Any day labor site will provide the same outcome, mostly men who have left their wives and children in hopes that they will be able to support them from the United States.

The current bill that was almost passed was in line with the history of the U.S. government's response to immigration. The history is dotted with racist and exclusive tactics by the government. From the 1800s bills have been established to remove the rights of those from other nationalities, and the HR 4437 is no different. The cycle seems recurring, and even if one battle is won, such as Cesar Chavez, the powers of the world will find some way of bringing to naught that victory. The United Farm Workers that sprung up from Cesar Chavez has been practically disbanded and ignored since his day.

About the Writer

Rowan is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
Want to write articles too? Sign up & become a writer!

0 comments on The Who and Why of Immigration

Add A Comment!

Click here to signup or login.

Rate This Article

Your vote matters to us