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Trump’s immigration strategy: betting on people’s misinformation

Dave Ransom  |  Issue: September | October 2017

Most don’t know that you can’t migrate to the U.S. legally from Mexico


US Immigration enforcement little girl and family

Children like this young girl end up in crowded unsanitary immigrant detention centers. PHOTO: Jerry Lara, San Antonio Express-News


When the Trump administration launched the most recent U.S. attack on “illegal immigrants,” particularly Mexicans, it bet on the ignorance of many Americans to make its charges believable and frightening.

After all, somebody doing something illegal is a criminal, right? So, what were these people up to?

What Trump didn’t say, of course, is that U.S. immigration policy makes it almost impossible for Mexicans to migrate legally into the United States. And at the same time U.S. agribusiness has destroyed Mexican small farms and put millions of jobless people on the road.

Below we cite three of the questions commonly asked by native-born Americans, including many of those who support immigrant rights. Knowing the answers cannot only help undermine the anti-immigrant attack, but also unite the working class to which we all belong.

Why have so many Mexicans migrated to the United States?

As part of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Mexican government dropped its protective tariffs. Imported U.S. corn flooded Mexico and wiped out that country’s small farmers. Documents show that negotiators on both sides were aware this would happen.

As a consequence, millions of young Mexicans left the farms and took to the road, looking for work to feed their parents and younger siblings. Many went to the maquiladoras – low-wage factories set up by foreign corporations south of the border.

Many others came north, looking for whatever jobs they could find.

Why do they come illegally? Why don’t they just get in line?

What many Americans learned in school was that every country had an annual quota for migration to the United States and people who wanted to migrate could actually make an application and get in line for an eventual visa.

But those days are long past. Now, for all practical purposes, most Mexicans cannot migrate to the United States legally, and once here they cannot get papers.

Yes, family members of those immigrants who have become American citizens can get in line. But fewer than 50,000 Mexican family members can enter each year, and it takes as long as two decades to bring in parents or a sibling or a child.

And, yes, a “diversity” lottery makes 50,000 green cards available to the whole world – more than 12 million people applied in 2015. But the law excludes any country with more than 50,000 migrants over the past five years. So, this door is closed to Mexicans (and Filipinos).

Why would anybody want to keep immigrants from Mexico illegal?

Keeping millions of immigrants illegal and fearful creates a large pool of cheap labor, living in the shadows and unable to access basic labor rights. Their low wages have held down the wages of other workers, too, which benefits employers well beyond the industries where immigrant labor is common.

This is not so different from when Southern plantation owners used cheap, fearful slave labor before the U.S. Civil War … or when U.S. industry moved into the South after the Civil War, keeping labor cheap through legal segregation of black and white backed by vigilante violence.

Both cheap slave labor and cheap segregated labor held down wages in the rest of the country, keeping the working-class poor and divided to the benefit of the wealthy and powerful.

Indeed, keeping us divided may be the fundamental benefit of “illegal” immigration to the capitalist powers that be today. It weakens workers in America politically as well as economically.

And that’s probably the best reason for us to answer these questions – to educate the ignorant and link arms together.

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