October 4th, 2010
On September 4th, Witness for Peace’s Mexico-based International Team participated in the Catholic Church’s 96th World Day for Migrants and Refugees. We were asked to pray for migrants on their journey and migrants who have arrived at their destinations, as well as for their families. We were also asked to contemplate Mexico’s current migration situation, which has become increasingly complicated and tragic. Just days before the mass 72 migrants from Central America were massacred in Tamaulipas, about 100 miles from Texas. Despite the dangers of the arduous trip to the U.S. more and more migrants are willing to take the risk in order to find work to support their families.
Everyone in Mexico knows that NAFTA and increased migration are related. Contrary to promises that NAFTA would stimulate the Mexican economy and bring the country into the “first world,” NAFTA has actually lowered economic growth to the slowest rates the country has experienced since the early 1900s. The manufacturing jobs that free trade initially brought to Mexico were never enough to offset the damage done to millions of farmers who could no longer compete with U.S. agricultural products. Furthermore, there was a net loss in jobs created by NAFTA once the maquiladoras moved to find lower wages elsewhere. The loss of jobs as a result of NAFTA is one of the main push factors that takes people through treacherous paths in the desert to the United States.
Even with much evidence to the contrary, legislators and the president continue to hold out for the promises of free trade, linking trade to national security, especially in neighboring Mexico. Kenneth I. Juster, Under Secretary of Commerce For Export Administration in 2001 stated, “our conception of national security must also be concerned with securing the international conditions necessary for preserving and enhancing free trade and U.S. economic prosperity.”
The U.S. has responded to the violence and instability brought about by drug trafficking and organized crime in northern Mexico with military aid. The Merida Initiative is a $1.6 billion funding package from the U.S. that aims to combat the war on drugs in Mexico. It has four main “pillars”: dismantling organized criminal groups, strengthening institutions-, creating a “modern border,” and building resilient communities. In terms of funding, a large chunk of the package is intended for military and police equipment and training. Related infrastructure projects are designed to ease military reach. The plan for building resilient communities, “implementing job creation programs, engaging youth in their communities, expanding social safety nets, and building community confidence in public institutions,” is at odds with U.S. economic policy, namely NAFTA which has resulted in a loss of jobs and migration.
The Merida Initiative and other similar programs have done little to stop drug trafficking, corruption or the growth of organized crime in Mexico. In fact, violence has increased since the inception of the Merida Initiative and organized crime has better and more access to arms. Nancy Garcia from Centro de Orientacion al Migrante (COMI), stated upon her return from a trip to the Arizona border, that access to the border is controlled by organized criminal groups and that these groups charge a fee for entrance to the area.
The massacre of 72 migrants in Tamaulipas is a terrifying example of what can happen. A survivor described the horror of the massacre: a large group of migrants was kidnapped by alleged members of the organized criminal group Zetas. They were offered work with the Zetas, and when they refused they were killed. Details continue to arise as more survivors come forward. Two of the investigators on the case are believed to have been found dead.
Perhaps in response to this incomprehensible violence the U.S. State Department announced that it would withhold $26 million from Merida Initiative funding to Mexico until further human rights conditions were met. These conditions of violence and impunity make it easy to understand why the State Department is holding on to a portion of Merida funds—but what about the rest of the funding, which the Obama administration would like to release? What kind of a mixed message are we sending about U.S. concern for the alarming human rights situation in Mexico?
With the continuation of free trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA the migrant stream will continue to grow, and more migrants will take the risk of passing through Mexico now heavily militarized by U.S. funding. At the same time, organized crime continues to wreak havoc and gain control over the flow of migrants into the U.S. As a recent New York Times opinion piece stated, “We have delegated to drug lords the job of managing our immigrant supply, just as they manage our supply of narcotics. The results are clear.”
During the World Day for Migrants and Refugees migrant mass in Oaxaca, we were called to see migration as “a sign of the times, of the 21st century, that God is charging us to respond to.” It is our duty as neighbors and as U.S. citizens to think about the policies that force migration, and to change them.