BY JESSE JACKSON
Presidential campaigns often turn raw. Politicians reach for sound
bites that bite. Often they gain by playing on fears, winning by
division, not by addition. In 2016, insult has become the coin of the
campaign, particularly in the Republican primaries. And too often the
enemy singled out has been Mexico and Mexicans.
Mexico has been burlesqued as a source of illegal immigrants, who are
slandered as rapists and criminals. Mexico is accused of taking our
factories abroad and Mexican immigrants of stealing our jobs at home.
Trumpets sound for building a wall across a 2,000-mile border, for
deporting millions of Mexicans living in America, for booting out the
Dreamers who were born here, and more.
We would be wise to step back and take a deep breath. Mexico isn’t our
backdoor; it is our next-door neighbor. One hundred million people live
in the 10 U.S. and Mexican states along the border region, and taken
together these form the equivalent of the fourth largest economy in the
world. Our ties with Mexico are deep, our peoples intertwined. They
should not be reduced to a sound bite or an insult.
Thirty-four million Mexicans and Mexican-Americans live in the United
States; about 22 million were born here. Every day, the U.S. and Mexico
exchange $1.4 billion in two-way trade. Mexico is our second largest
export market (after Canada). Mexico buys more U.S. goods than all of
the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and Singapore) combined, nearly
as much as the entire EU. Mexico is the third largest supplier of crude
oil to the U.S. It is the largest export market for U.S. refined
petroleum products and a growing market for our natural gas.
Cooperation between our two great countries is inescapable. We must
and do coordinate on transportation, on legal entry points, on
international organized crime, on trans-border infectious diseases and
trans-border environmental challenges. In recent years focus has
necessarily been placed on criminal activity — the flow of drugs coming
north and the flow of guns and contraband cash going south. We are the
biggest market for illegal drugs in the world. Our appetites feed the
criminal drug rings that threaten entire countries. We have an
obligation and a national interest in bolstering enforcement on both
sides of the border.
We don’t need a wall; we need a bridge. We are neighbors, bound
together by geography and by history. Now we hear all these fulminations
about undocumented workers. People don’t leave their homes on a lark.
They flee parched earth for green grass. For too long, we have exploited
Mexican workers on both sides of the border. They pick our fruit and
vegetables. They clean our houses. They fight and die in our wars,
hoping for a green card and a shot at an American dream. Mexicans didn’t
take our jobs to Mexico; U.S. corporations used NAFTA to take our jobs
to Mexico. Mexicans don’t seek subminimum wages here. U.S. employers
exploit the undocumented to pad their own pockets.
This furious debate about immigration is taking place as illegal
immigration has virtually disappeared due to the lack of jobs in the
U.S. The biggest flood of immigration came after NAFTA forced family
farmers in Mexico to compete with subsidized agribusiness in the U.S.
Many lost their lands and their livelihood and came north to survive. We
need economic policies that work for working people on both sides of the
border, not a policy of division and insult that allows employers to
keep exploiting workers in both countries.
America’s strength is its diversity. And our security is enhanced by
having close relations with our neighbors. American workers have every
reason to be angry about an economy that is rigged to work against them
and a politics that is corrupted by big money. But our Mexican neighbors
didn’t do that, and building a wall won’t change it. The politics of
insult ends up insulting us.
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