The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration by David Bacon is a well written, well informed book that explains political and economic currents shaping the US immigration experience.
The U.S. public is engaged in a sustained and divisive debate over immigration. Unfortunately, at the same time , most U.S. do not recognize that U.S. economic policy, particularly NAFTA created many of the conditions that produce the very immigration of some 8 million people that many on the Right and the Tea Party so oppose.
The passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994 accelerated a neo-liberal form of economic growth in Mexico that drove poor farmers, particularly in the indigenous south to lose their farms and their livelihood. In response young men, and increasingly the young women, made the dangerous trek to the U.S. in search of work and an income to feed their families and keep their families from losing their farms.
The 1994 NAFTA treaty contributed to the mass migration of working people to the U.S. Now the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) proposed by the Obama Administration, continues these policies and includes many similar provisions. If agreed to by Congress, the T.P.P. , like NAFTA before it, will increase immigration for decades. These trade agreements are being written with the participation of corporations but do not include realistic provisions for the protection of labor and migrants rights.
In The Right to Stay Home, David Bacon writes clearly and persuasively providing the reader with the an understanding of the geography and the economics of the current mass migration. The author is a well known photo journalist and photography is usually an integral element of his work. In this book, without photos, he uses extensive personal testimonies and narratives of migrants to carry the stories of working people caught up in the struggle of human migration.
Bacon describes how U.S. economic policy drives Mexican migration with a revealing and well documented description of how the U.S. corporation Smithfield Foods created factory farms and an ecological disaster in the Perote Valley near Vera Cruz, Mexico. In his narrative, Miguel Huerta describes how the mass production of pigs created immense factory farms, polluted the local water supplies, drove local farmers from their land, and created the vast pools of pig excrement produced by concentrated industrial pig sheds . These polluted factory farms were the origins of the Swine flue before it spread to the U.S., or as some prefer to refer to the epidemic as H1N1.
Highlights of the book include individual and well written personal narratives of working people such as David Ceja and Fausto Limon as they try to survive in the dangerous and exploitive life of migration. In an ironic twist immigrant workers like Roberto Ortega were driven off their land and then recruited from Vera Cruz to migrate work at Smithfield hog plants in North Carolina.
These narratives separate the Right to Stay Home from social science and policy studies on migration.
Bacon records Jacinto Martinez telling his own story of how he was driven from the mines in Cananea, near the Arizona border when their union was destroyed by government intervention to protect the company. He tells the story of Humberto Montes de Oca, the elected leader of the the democratic Mexican electrical workers union ( SME) driven into exile in the U.S. and Canada by the selling off of power companies in pursuit of neo- liberal reform.
These workers and millions more were not voluntary migrants, they came to the U.S. because they were forced from their jobs in Mexico by the neo-liberal economic “reforms” negotiated within NAFTA.
Globalization and global economic policy and trade deals produce migration. Even the conservative Catholic Church recognizes that when there is globalization there will also be migration. You would think that the U.S. Congress might catch up- unless Congress is under the control of political groups that benefit from the continued “ illegal” status of millions of workers.
Just as the U.S. and many industrial countries have developed economic strategies to benefit from migration, they must also develop fair and just immigration policies or face economic disruptions and a continued influx of migrant workers.
David Bacon as a labor journalist has spent over thirty years chronicling and photographing the lives of migrants . He is one of the few well informed writers who considers migration not only from the U.S. perspective but from both sides of the border.
Immigrants’ rights, or The Right to Stay Home, has become a social movement in Mexico and among some immigrant workers’ organizations in the U.S. The Obama Administration has produced vast expansion of deportations reaching 409,000 last year, with over 2 million deported since this president assumed office. Increased enforcement has been justified as a device to encourage legislative reform of the immigration system, but it has only increased the deportations and the divisions of families.
Here in the U.S. we marvel at how technology has crossed borders for our benefit. In the same period we have also criminalized the crossing of borders by people. NAFTA, along with neo-liberal economic reform in Mexico and political repression including crushing unions , has propelled thousands of additional workers to leave their homes and to come to the U.S.
As it has done for at various times in the last 120 years, migration goes over/ under and around border, fences and walls. One response of unions is cross border organizing. Bacon describes several of the historical incidents of cross border organizing- going back to the Cananea strikers and the Western Mine workers in 1906 and again in 2007. Again today experienced and dedicated union organizers facing repression in Mexico bring their working class perspective to the U.S. and contribute to the political organizing demanding immigration reform here. Cooperative and solidarity based organizing has increased as the borders are surpassed.
This is a well researched book, well worth reading by persons interested in this conditions of labor and immigration on both sides of the border.
See a video of David Bacon describing this issue in October, 2013.