Categories Agriculture

NAFTA, the Department of Agriculture and Illegal Aliens

Acting Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner in a statement released January 2, 2008 has declared the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) “…one of the most successful trade agreements in our history…” citing the enormous rise in agricultural exports to Mexico, from $5.9 billion at NAFTA’s inception in 1994 under the Clinton administration, to $24 billion in 2006.

What Conner failed to discuss in his statement was the devastation NAFTA has wreaked upon Mexican farming, causing staple products such as corn and tomatoes from the United States to be cheaper to import than grow locally, with those U.S. operations using cheap – and oft-times illegal – labor imported from south of the border.

There is no question that NAFTA has been a boon to U.S. agricultural exports. But its effects reached beyond the border, and created a vacuum within the Mexican economy. The needs of the displaced and dispossessed sustenance farmers are being filled in many instances by illegal hiring practices in the United States in such industries as construction and farming.

Many of the illegal immigrants who have landed in the United States once ran their own farms at home in Mexico, but found that their hand-labor intensive farming methods had no hope of competing with the mechanized megafarms in the United States, and were forced from their land seeking work elsewhere – with the United States the obvious market with its porous border and “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude toward illegal aliens of Hispanic descent.

Tomatoes are a hand-picked crop, backbreaking labor that pays laborers by the bucket picked or by the pound. Taco Bell and parent company Yum Brands last spring entered into an agreement with migrant farm worker organization Coalition of Immokalee Workers to double the price of tomatoes – from 1 cent to 2 cents per pound. McDonald’s was soon pressured to follow suit, as are other restaurant chains in the United States.

“McDonald’s has decided to work with the growers instead of the workers,” said Amanda Shanor, program director with the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights in an interview with New Standard reporter Kari Lydersen. That is, until McDonald’s entered into a similar agreement on April 9, drawing the ire of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, …

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