In pursuit of the American dream


Written by Laura Carlsen

Wednesday, 29 March 2006

Bad Blood on the Border

Guillermo Martinez was only 20 years old when he was
shot in the back at close range by an agent of the U.S. Border Patrol
in the state of California on December 30, 2005. Scores of migrants
have been shot by U.S. immigration enforcement officers. Most fail to
make the headlines. But Martinez’s death comes at the same time as a
series of measures to further criminalize migrants—measures that are
likely to increase the chances that more young men and women lose their
lives on what has become the world’s most contradictory border.

House Bill 4437,
also known as the Sensenbrenner bill after its sponsor, was passed in
the lower house last December. The bill calls for making illegal entry
into the United States a felony, building approximately 700 miles of
fence to staunch the flow of immigrants, and beefing up border

Both the title—”The Border
Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Control Act”—and the logic of
the law locate immigration squarely within the purview of the war
against terrorism. But using an anti-terrorism lens on immigration
issues obscures a much different reality.

Seeking Survival

immigration phenomenon is really a question of labor flows. When the
United States, Canada, and Mexico entered into the North American Free
Trade Agreement (NAFTA) they created an instrument to facilitate the
crossborder movement of money and goods but ignored the third
ingredient of production: human beings. Many of the transformations of
the Mexican economy wrought by NAFTA — including a reduction in
subsistence “non-competitive” farming to the tune of two million
displaced farmers, the loss of small and medium-sized national
industry, and greater inequality in income distribution — have fed the
boom in out-migration. High unemployment, or in the case of Mexico, underemployment since
the lack of unemployment benefits means everyone does something even if
it’s only washing windshields at stoplights, leads increasing numbers
to seek gainful employment in the relatively high-wage north.

employment in the U.S. economy is a form of outsourcing within national
boundaries. They work as a sub-layer of the labor force that earns
less, has fewer benefits, and enjoys almost no legal protection under
laws that refuse to recognize their very existence.

better or for worse, the U.S. economy depends on immigrant labor. Just
weeks after Martinez was shot, Arizona’s governor announced a proposal
to import 25,000 legal day-workers from the neighboring state of Sonora
to harvest the state’s winter crops. In addition to agriculture, the
services sector throughout the country also harbors a growing
dependence on immigrant labor.

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