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STATEMENT: U.S. Immigration Policy

June 7th, 2008

Witness for Peace stands in solidarity with Latin Americans who are seeking justice, wherever they or their struggles may be. U.S. economic policy in Latin America has contributed substantially to the conditions causing migration from Latin American countries to the United States; accordingly, we find it necessary to take responsibility for and advocate changes in our international policy. At the same time, the unsettling and unjust reality facing Latin Americans who have migrated to the U.S., especially those who are undocumented, requires our solidarity and that we state our basic principles with respect to domestic immigration policy.

Domestic Policy Principles

In light of practices currently at work to threaten migrants living in the U.S. and in light of how domestic policy measures effectively produce breeches in family bonds and tears in the social fabric of Latin American sending communities, we find it necessary to oppose the following:

  • We oppose any border enforcement or border militarization that violates human rights, including any strategy that forces undocumented migrants to cross the US-Mexico Border in dangerous and deadly areas.
  • We oppose efforts by local, state, and federal authorities—or any other party—to profile, terrorize, and/or deny basic services to members of immigrant communities. We oppose raids and the deportation of undocumented immigrants.
  • We oppose any migration policy that divides and separates families against their will.
  • We oppose any stance that blames migrant workers for the current migration situation or for usurping jobs in the U.S. economy.
  • We oppose the building of an economy based on exploited labor, including measures that would effectively perpetuate a second-class labor force and continue the trend of paying low wages to workers both in the U.S. and abroad.

We wholeheartedly support the struggle for just and comprehensive domestic immigration reform policies that include (but are not limited to):

  • A pathway to citizenship.
  • Protections for workers’ rights.
  • Expedient family reunification.

The Roots of Migration

True comprehensive migration reform, however, will only be achieved by significantly changing U.S. economic policy in Latin American countries and adequately understanding the complexities of the United States’ relationship with Latin America. While there has been a longstanding, historical migration relationship between the U.S. and Mexico, since the 1960s, and especially beginning in the 1980s and culminating in the mid-1990s, a number of economic policies initiated by the U.S. have only increased the need for Latin Americans everywhere to migrate. These have been:

  • In the 1960s, the establishment of a free trade zone in northern Mexico to exploit cheap labor in export-oriented factories (maquiladoras) pressured many Mexicans and Central Americans to leave their farmlands and to head northward looking for work.
  • At the same time, advancement of heavily subsidized industrial farming by U.S. companies resulted in increased production, exports, and commercial dumping which forced many Latin American small farmers out of competition and into cities looking for work, thus flooding the labor market.
  • In the 1980s, structural adjustment programs initiated by the U.S.-controlled International Monetary Fund in Mexico and other Central American countries resulted in cuts in subsidies to farmers, removal of state-created price controls for agricultural products, cuts in social services such as health and education, and privatization of many state-owned institutions and businesses (resulting in many worker layoffs).
  • The signing and implementation of free trade agreements (the first being the North American Free Trade Agreement implemented in 1994; in 2006 a similar treaty, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, went into effect) removed all tariffs and quotas on internationally traded goods and opened national markets to domination by large international companies—most notably in the agricultural and export manufacturing sectors—thus stifling small- and medium-sized business, forcing wages down for those in manufacturing and other sectors, and further causing small farmers to leave their lands in search of more profitable work.
These realities constitute the roots of migration, and ultimately we believe that addressing the complexities of trade policy is essential for truly ameliorating the undesired effects of migration. It is for this reason, as we stand in solidarity with our Latin American sisters and brothers both in the U.S. and abroad, that we believe our greatest contribution to the immigrant rights movement is our activism to change U.S. trade policy in Latin America.