Remarks at Vigil for Human Rights, for a Humane Border Policy with Peace and Dignity, and Against Vigilantism

by Ian Robertson

Ian Robertson is President of the Southern Arizona Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO). In these remarks at a vigil/rally on June 2 at Armory Park in Tucson, Arizona, attended by more than 500 people, Ian Robertson describes the economic forces of globalization driving increased numbers to try to enter the U.S. — many losing their lives crossing deserts or hiding in container ships without enough water and food. The June 2 vigil opposed racist rancher vigilantes in southeast Arizona who, with official encouragement, have been tracking down and brutalizing border crossers. The vigil called for a just and humane border policy instead of the increased militarization along the border and U.S. government policies that are causing immigrants to cross in remote areas, leading to at least 70 deaths this year, as of mid-August.

Militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border has not and will not work. It is no more than a band-aid on a hemorrhage.

The immigration problem is an economic problem. Parents do not take their infant children to another country without good reason. Fathers do not leave their families on a whim. They do these desperate things only under desperate conditions.

This fact was stated quite plainly in this morning’s paper. When undocumented immigrants were asked why they take the huge risks of crossing the desert to come to the U.S. the answer was, “Mucho tiempo, poquito dinero (Too much time working for too little pay).”

We are now seeing the fruits of a poor trade agreement made by Congress — NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement.) Yes, it is a “free trade agreement,” but it’s certainly not a fair trade agreement. Corporation after corporation has left the U.S. to open more and more maquiladora factories along the border. These plants exploit the Mexican workers and contaminate the environment for the sake of higher profit margins.

NAFTA has failed to live up to its promise to relieve the immigration problem. In fact, it has made the problem worse. The wages of Mexican factory workers have fallen. Life in the colonias (the shantytowns where maquiladora workers and the unemployed create some sort of shelter for themselves) has gotten worse.

Unsafe working conditions, low pay, long hours, with no future, and living in squalid conditions - all this makes for desperate people. These people look across the border and see a land of opportunity. A place where one hour at minimum wage pays more than a ten-hour day in their home country.

Even though these people, once they come to the U.S., are constantly exploited by employers, coming here remains the lesser of two evils.

NAFTA is a bad trade agreement for all workers, but now with the recent passage by the House of Representatives of PNTR (permanent normal trade relations) with China things will worsen. It has been estimated that 100,000 jobs (mostly provided by U.S. corporations) will leave Mexico each year to take advantage of the 20 cents per hour wages in China.

What will happen to these displaced workers in Mexico? Won’t they, too, try to cross the border into the U.S., to reach this “land of opportunity”?

The time has come for all of us to raise a unified voice demanding that our elected representatives pass laws guaranteeing all workers their basic human rights — a livable wage, health care, education for children, decent housing, safe work places, and international environmental standards, as well as a realistic immigration policy.

We are many here this evening, and I would challenge all of you, when you go home, to take your politicians to task on this issue.

Together we can make a difference. Divided we cannot.

Demand social justice!

Demand human rights!

Demand environmental justice!

Demand workers rights!