At the dawn of the 21st century, the United States offers a contradictory model of global economic openness. American policy has relentlessly promoted open commerce, leading the way by freeing its own markets to foreign investment, trade and travel. America's own borders have become increasingly open for flows of capital, goods, commodities, information and certain favored classes of people: entrepreneurs, scientists, students, tourists and corporate employees. When it comes to the movement of ordinary labor, however, America has not sought openness. Rather, the thrust of U.S. policy since the 1950s has been to make it more difficult for workers to enter the United States in search of jobs, except via narrow programs under corporate control.
One of the pleasant fictions that helps justify the Bush administration's opposition to affirmative action is the pretense that America has left behind the evils of segregation and achieved something approaching a race-blind society. "Every day that our nation was segregated was a day our nation was unfaithful to our founding ideals," the president said in response to Sen. Trent Lott's (R-Miss.) ill-considered remarks about Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.).
Supposedly, NAFTA will lead to increased movement of goods and services between Mexico and the United States -- but not to more movement of people. That, however, reflects a fundamentally mistaken view of migration. A better understanding should reframe our entire immigration policy.
n January 1, 1994, Mexico joined Canada and the United States in the North
American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), creating a free trade zone stretching
from the Guatemala border to the Arctic Ocean. Despite the continent-wide
opening of capital, consumer, and commodity markets, however, NAFTA does not
envision a parallel opening of labor markets. On the contrary, NAFTA was sold as
a means of preventing labor migration from Mexico. According to former Mexican
President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, through NAFTA Mexico sought "to export
goods and not people."