Activist Spotlight: Sister Noemi Peregrino Gonzalez
Sister Noemi Peregrino Gonzalez is a Catholic nun from Mexico who has spent years working in the state of Veracruz with campesinos (small farmers) directly affected by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). She now works in Nogales, a Mexican town near the U.S. border, where 1,500 undocumented migrants are deported back to Mexico from the United States every day.
In Veracruz, Sister Peregino Gonzalez saw how NAFTA’s agricultural provisions led to the dumping of subsidized U.S. agribusiness corn on the Mexican market by the huge grain trading corporations like ConAgra and Archer Daniels Midland. These companies paid U.S. farmers less than it cost to grow the corn - impoverishing them - and then used NAFTA to flood the Mexican market with these subsidized exports that have wiped out 1.3 million Mexican small farmers in the NAFTA era.
Because NAFTA also allowed the huge U.S. agribusiness corporations to buy up milling and retail operations in Mexico, even as the price paid to Mexican farmers for corn dropped by 80%, the price of staple foods using corn like tortillas has risen dramatically. The result, as Sister Peregrino Gonzalez testifies, is a huge increase in lost livelihoods, hunger, and ultimately undocumented migration by small farmers left with no other option.
As the immigration debate has heated up in the United States, Sister Peregrino Gonzalez joined Witness for Peace, a U.S. grassroots group that works for peace and justice in Latin America, for a “Roots of Migration” speaking tour through the U.S. Midwest including stops in Minneapolis, Madison, and Chicago. The purpose of the tour is to remind audiences in the United States that U.S. immigration policy fixes that don't deal with the causal reasons why people migrate in the first place cannot solve the "immigration problem." Sister Peregrino Gonzalez has helped people across the United States understand that NAFTA's misguided agricultural rules were a big reason why immigration rates from Mexico have jumped since NAFTA.
As Sister Peregrino Gonzalez puts it, “Before NAFTA we saw the majority of immigration coming from only a few states along the border region. Now, we see it from Chiapas, Veracruz, Puebla, Oaxaca... everywhere. NAFTA hits hardest those with the smallest plots of land, forcing people to migrate”.
The problem is that a lot of members of Congress aren’t making these connections. On Sunday April 23rd, Sister Peregrino Gonzalez brought this message to an immigration study group at a Methodist Church in Palatine, Illinois, where Congresswoman Melissa Bean has supported House immigration legislation that many of her constituents oppose. Rep. Bean, a Democrat, voted for HR4437, a House bill that would impose criminal penalties on institutions, such as churches, that aid undocumented immigrants. Yet, Bean also voted for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) NAFTA expansion, despite repeated warnings from U.S. Latino organizations and citizens' groups in Central America that CAFTA NAFTA expansion would boost migration pressures.
Sister Peregrino Gonzalez’s message? Don’t make that mistake again of passing trade deals that destroy people's livelihoods and force them to migrate.
Congress may have another chance to vote on NAFTA expansion all too soon, as President Bush has signed new NAFTA expansion deals with the Middle Eastern country of Oman and the South American country of Peru. Votes on these bad deals in Congress could come anytime.
We also want to thank Sister Noemi Peregrino Gonzalez for breaking the silence about the “Roots of Migration,” and for all her hard work for social justice.
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