When NAFTA was passed under the Clinton Administration, it was heralded as ending the need for migration. Instead it increased the desparation of people because the USA government in order to have NAFTA approved, demanded that Article 27, the heart of the Mexican constitution for which the Mexican Revolution was fought over, be eliminated. Article 27 states that land would be held by the people, it could not be sold, but was to be held in common so there would be land for sustaining the Mexican people with food. NAFTA also insisted that USA corn and other crops would continue to receive subsidies, keeping the cost of USA corn falsely low. THis corn would be sold in Mexico at prices that Mexican farmers, the small one and two acre farmers could not even grow it at forcing them to leave their farms. Because the land could no longer provide them with the means of a modest living. Where would they go?
Along the borders were the building of Maquilas, the NAFTA induced factories. Here workers were being hired at an equivalency of $8 a day for an 8 hour day, six days a week. Our delegation visited the workers of one Maquila, The Legacy Imaging plant, in Nogales, Sonora. One day this past February 2013, the workers came to work only to find the doors locked. THe factory had closed shop and had not told the employees nor had it paid them the required severance pay under Mexican Labor Law–which is 90 days. THe workers told us this happens quite frequently in Nogales. They have attempted to contact the employers based in Denver, CO and have received no response. THey have filed a lawsuit but it is doubtful anything will come of it because Mexican law has little sway over USA corporations. THe workers therefore have taken to a 24/7 vigil at the plant to ensure the equipment is not taken out of the factory in the hopes they will be given the authority to sell it and divide the money amongst the 134 employees of this plant. The company has not answered inquiries from the Mexican Lawyers.
A few miles away on top of a hill is the Old Nogales Dump. Here there are about a dozen families living in make shift hovels of furniture pushed together with tarps and scraps of tin. These families harvest the dump for aluminum, copper, plastic, and cardboard to sell. THey scour the site for these tidbits and place them into huge sacks that are weighed and sold by the kilo. A days earnings might be equivalent to 8 or 9 Dollars a day. The same amount of money the factory workers are paid. The difference is these families are not paying rent for their hovel, they are not paying utilities. So which of these workers, the factory workers or dump dwellers, are the poorest of Mexico?
We met with one family at the dump. A grandmother, her son and daughter -in- law and grandchildren; all work the dump every day. She plays an important role. She is the keeper of herbal remedies for medical needs, she tends the children, and she will cook the food. She makes tortillas on a small grill outside of her hut. SHe is quite pleased with her living arrangements. WIth furniture, tires, car bumpers, tarps and blankets; she has created a three room space, a bedroom for three people, a living room that also serves as a bedroom, and an eating area. She has lived at the dump since she was 15 years of age. SHe has a grandson who lives away who will be coming to visit them on vacation. She is excited at the possibility of seeing him.
One of the workers at the dump lived in the USA from age 13 until he was deported a few years ago. He has a wife and two daughters in Iowa. He worked in construction, in a meat cold storage plant, and in Chinese restaurants as a cook through out the USA and Vancouver, Canada. For a few years he lived in Albertville, AL and had visited Tuscaloosa, where I currently live. He misses his wife and daughters. He does not get to speak to them often and he says his daughters do not speak Spanish. He hopes to return to the USA to be with his family. He has a better chance of earning and saving the money needed by scouring the dump than by working in a factory. I listen but do not tell him that crossing this time around will be vastly different than when he was 13 and crossed over at San Diego. He was fortunate then. Kindness of strangers took him across and kindness of other strangers then drove him to Los Angeles. The strangers today do not seem to be so kind to others.