|BACKTALK | spring 2007
How U.S. policies harm immigrant women and their children—let alone the nations they come from
The faces we usually don't see during demonstrations against immigrants, or during
deportation raids at the places they work, are those
of young children.
But lately, those children have come out of the shadows—
like 8-year-old Saul Arellano, living with his mother
Elvira Arellano under sanctuary in a Chicago church
since last August as they protest her possible deportation
(see “She Won’t Go Quietly” in Ms., Fall 2006). Or some
of the children of about 350 factory workers, mostly
women, in New Bedford, Mass., who had to be placed in
temporary foster homes after their parents were suddenly
seized in a March immigration raid.
Still unseen are the citizen-children left behind in the
U.S. when their noncitizen parents are forced to leave. Or
the children deprived of their opportunities as U.S. citizens
when they choose to accompany their deported parents.
If a comprehensive immigration bill were to be enacted
by the new U.S. Congress, many of the workers being de-ported
might be eligible for legal status. Many labor
unions already support a “future flow” of immigrants that
contains a path to U.S. residency and citizenship.
Anti-immigration forces would have people believe that
simply enforcing border restrictions is enough to resolve
the immigration debate. In fact, immigration to the United
States will never be stopped until the “supply side” of the
equation is resolved. Unless our neighbors in Mexico and
Latin America can create gainful employment within their
countries, their people will continue to migrate north.
And U.S. policies have been a major contributor to unemployment
and poverty in Mexico. NAFTA has allowed
U.S. businesses into Mexico that take out huge profits
while providing exploitative sweatshop jobs that pay as little
as 56 cents an hour. NAFTA regulations have also
made it profitable to dump cheap U.S. corn into Mexico,
dropping the price paid to Mexican farmers by 70 percent
and causing more than 2 million of them to lose their jobs.
Many of those farmers have now joined the U.S. undocumented
In Mexico, food costs are now higher than they were
before NAFTA. Corn tortilla prices have risen as much as
60 percent in some areas, and will probably go higher due
to the increased demand for corn to make ethanol fuel.
Compare U.S. trade policy toward our friendly neighbors
to the south with U.S. foreign policy toward Japan
and Germany after World War II. There, U.S. tax dollars
helped the countries rebuild so they could once again have
strong economies. In Mexico and Latin America, though,
American corporations create giant sweatshop factories
(maquiladoras), and American agribusiness displaces thousands
of farmers who cannot compete with U.S. corporate
might. We preach democracy and liberation to other countries,
but our policies are those of economic colonization.
As immigrants seek work in the U.S., they are treated as
criminals. Thousands have died crossing the U.S.-Mexican
border. Bush is building a multibillion-dollar wall on the
border, supposedly to keep out terrorists as well as immigrants,
yet the only terrorists arrested for entering the U.S.
came through the Canadian border. “Illegal alien” has become
code for “people of color,” inciting activity by the Ku
Klux Klan and homegrown militias such as the Minutemen.
This spring, a campaign of marches by immigrant
children has begun, calling on the grand- and great-grandchildren
of previous immigrants to join in the
struggle. We need to encourage our congressional leadership
to pass a just legalization measure for those who
pick our food, clean our houses and buildings, and care
for our children, elderly and disabled—contributing to
the U.S. economy with their sweat and taxes while receiving
few benefits of citizenship. Can we get such a bill
passed? ¡Si, se puede! (Yes, we can!)
DOLORES HUERTA is the legendary feminist organizer who
co-founded the United Farmworkers with Cesar Chavez.