U.S. Government Intervention in Mexico and Latin America
By DeVahnté Mosley
The current administration in the United States views immigration from Mexico and Central America as an issue of national security. This characterization has led to President Trump declaring a national emergency. Through foreign policies such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement – Dominican Republic (CAFTA-DR), the economies of countries like Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have been restructured. These restructurings have caused instability in these countries, which has fueled the migration that exists today.
In the case of Mexico, corn has been a staple of Mexican culture since its origins and a main source of income for many of the small Mexican farmers who make up the working class. NAFTA was put into place in 1994 during a time of recession in Mexico and although the agreement showed early promise, NAFTA would later prove to devastate rural livelihoods, increase unemployment, and cause a mass exodus of illegal migration to the United States. As a result, the number of Mexicans migrating to the United States increased steadily from approximately 350,000 per year before NAFTA to 500,000 per year by the early 2000s.
In the case of Guatemala and Honduras, what is known as the “Banana Wars” has destroyed the economy of both countries. Dating back to the mid 1950’s, U.S. government intervention related to the United Fruit Company has allowed the U.S. to profit in a region plagued by violence and corruption. Over the next few decades, civil wars and unjust military rule has forced families and small farmers affected to flee everything they have ever known. With no other options, farmers from Mexico and Central America come to the U.S. looking for work in order to provide for their families.
Jennifer Bulcock, Ph.D., an assistant professor of philosophy at Cabrini University as well as the assistant director of Cabrini’s Center on Immigration, attested to the treatment that immigrant farmers receive when they come to our country looking for work. “There are large scale violations of human rights and human dignity that occur when we look at our migrant populations in the United States.”
Most of these people’s livelihoods depend on farming and due to the lack of education and opportunities afforded to them, they are forced to continue working on farms when they come to the U.S. With limited options and resources, language barriers, and all of the other factors that immigrants face when they enter the country, farmers and physical labored workers are vulnerable and can easily be taken advantage of. “First, we’ve caused this influx of individuals seeking work in our country. And second, we tend not to pay them, reward them or treat them in humane ways once they get here,” said Bulcock.
One of the organizations looking to address this problem is El Comite de Apoyo a Los Trabajadores Agricolas (CATA), or the Farmworker Support Committee. Based out of Southern New Jersey with offices in Pennsylvania and Maryland as well, CATA’s mission is to “empower and educate farmworkers through leadership development and capacity building so that they are able to make informed decisions regarding the best course of action for their interests.”
CATA looks to help farmworkers through their popular education methodology, a practice that “focuses on providing the community with the opportunity to analyze their reality based on their own experiences and on enabling them to make decisions on how to go about seeking change.” Therefore, their work primarily revolves around “educating workers and their families on different issues that are important to them and in developing farmworker leadership within the community.”
CATA has identified four specific priorities and areas of improvement for migrant farmworkers: Migrant and Immigrant Rights, Workers’ Rights, Environmental Justice, and Housing. CATA organizers visit farm labor camps where migrant workers and their families are housed to offer pesticide safety training, HIV health education and testing, and ultimately to build local committees within center of work and communities.
José Manuel Guzmán now works for CATA as a Lead Organizer. Yet, he can vividly recall his childhood memories growing up in a small, agricultural-based town in Mexico. He came to the U.S. and worked as a farmworker in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, before becoming an organizer for CATA twenty-five years ago. ”I worked for fourteen years in the mushroom industry…schedules could be anywhere from three or four o’clock in the morning to as late as eight o’clock at night. Supervisors were constantly changing how much we would get paid, the mushrooms we were picking and how we were treated. Part of the organization is knowing its history and what we’re working for,” Guzmán said. “People should know that we’re fighting for justice and that we want to organize these communities.”
Meghan Hurley, the Communication Director at CATA, spoke to the impact that the organization has had in its 40 years of existence. “We don’t necessarily track our impact in a sophisticated way. The organization has been around for 40 years fighting the same fight. A lot of work has been done, labor laws have changed and wages have gone up for our workers. But the real struggle is pushing for true reform, so we still have a lot of work to do,” Hurley said.
CATA has advanced based on the belief that only through organizing and collective action can they achieve justice and fullness of life. CATA’s programs actively involve farmworkers in the process of social change. This means that the analysis and proposed actions come directly from the farmworkers. Also inherent in CATA’s mission is the importance of analyzing the farmworker reality in terms of the food system. In doing so, projects and campaigns are undertaken with the goal of achieving meaningful and lasting improvements rather than mere reforms to a legal and economic system that is structurally biased against them.