Picture of a rally against Arizona's SB1070.  There is a person holding a sign that says "sb1070: guilty of being brown" and a person in a pink hat holding an american flag.

Photo credit: Huffington Post

There’s a great article over at Tikkun Daily by my dear friend Josh Healey, in which he talks about how the current immigration fight against SB1070 in Arizona and the rest of the country is just the tip of the iceberg.  He asks us to look at why folks are immigrating:

Let’s be clear: NAFTA is currently the single greatest cause of migration to the United States. NAFTA, which eliminated most trade and investment barriers between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, was pitched to the peoples of all three nations as an instrument to improve the economic fortunes of all the parties involved. Instead, the agreement (like others the U.S. has signed with countries in the Global South over the last two decades) has been a bonanza for corporations and a disaster for everyone else. With no more tariffs, U.S.-subsidized corn flooded Mexico with impossibly cheap prices, destroying the livelihood of over two million Mexican farmers, many of whom have since migrated to the States.

Josh continues to talk about a North American Union leading to open borders – it’s a great piece, and I recommend you go over and read the whole thing.  The mainstream dialogue about immigration doesn’t include too many people talking about its root causes, and it is an absolutely critical conversation.  We need to call out the unjust policies that make some countries rich while making others poor, and the mass displacement it’s causing globally.

We rarely talk about immigration as displacement, but it’s time to start calling it like it is.  I doubt my family and I would have left if we had felt that we could reach our full potential at home, and I suspect this much is true for many immigrants in the U.S. now.  Leaving is a sacrifice, and it means leaving behind friends, family, food, and places. Place ain’t nothing to scoff at; place matters.  Leaving should be a choice – a real choice, not a choice between flourishing and merely surviving (or, sometimes, not even that).   Certainly, some immigrants to this country have had that choice.  But most simply have not, and have made a difficult decision in the face of difficult circumstances.

I am thankful every day for the work immigrant activists and our allies are doing to stand up against racist policies and demand comprehensive immigration reform. But alongside that work it is equally important that we fully implicate the ways in which capitalism, neoliberalism, and war displace people around the world.  This isn’t happening in a vacuum – looking back, my family’s immigration story can be traced back to war, oil, currency devaluation, and structural adjustment programs.  Yes, now that we are here, we need to make sure each of us is able to live with dignity in our new home.  But we can’t build towards a vision of full justice without addressing root causes.