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BACKTALK | spring 2007

One More Child Left Behind
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 workforce.

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.