March 21, 2016
Immigration and free trade agreements remain potent issues in the primaries and no doubt will reemerge in full force in the November election. But no one seems to be drawing the connection between the two.
The Republican candidates have been competing with each other over who is toughest in keeping illegal immigrants out. The Democratic candidates have been competing over who has a better, more humane, approach to comprehensive immigration reform and resolving the problems of undocumented workers and their families.
Twenty-one years after its enactment in 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement remains a dirty word in rust belt states, blamed for exporting living wage jobs and hollowing out communities.
Many Americans assume that Nafta gave away jobs to the benefit of Mexico. They would be surprised to know that the trade agreement remains as deeply controversial there as it is here. The president, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who negotiated it is the most reviled in recent Mexican history.
I was working at a research institute in Mexico City when Nafta was being negotiated. Our task was to predict its likely impact—universally touted as favorable by corporate and political elites in the United States, Mexico and Canada. A favorite formulation, repeated by President Salinas de Gortari, U.S. ambassador to Mexico John Negroponte, and U.S. presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton was that with Nafta Mexico would stop exporting workers and instead export products.