Sunday, 12 March 2017

Lenten Reflections - Part 2

Fruits of Mexico cheap labour, where vegetables are treated better than workers.

The 2006 Desert Southwest Annual Conference of United Methodists in the USA directed the Conference Board of Church and Society to provide a way to study the issues we face concerning immigration.

As part of this, they went to Mexico to explore, on a personal face-to-face level, what the issues were, what economic pressures the Mexicans faces, how Mexico and the USA were interlocked together, what effect trade deals had on Mexican farming, and all this comes out in their report. Below is the first part.

This was long before today’s troubled issues about immigration, but it opens up some good ethical questions with each section. I’m not giving my opinions; I’m leaving it for the reader to look and make up their own minds.

The Desert Southwest Conference Board of Church and Society
Borderlinks Trip Reflection - Part 1

As a theologian stated, “There is no such thing as a vicarious faith in God”, for we must all have and individual relationship and our own experiences with God if we are to know God personally in our lives.

The same is true for any experience we try to share with others. We can have a powerful impact when we share our experiences, and we can encourage others to risk seeking the experience for themselves.

Recently, several members of the Conference Board of Church and Society took a Borderlinks trip to Altar, Mexico. Altar was chosen because it is a major congregating point for migrants coming from southern Mexico and Central America to prepare for a trek across the desert into the United States.

We hope by reading this account that you will feel the challenge to have your own experience. One can share informational facts, but it is harder to share the deeper truths that come with the first hand experiences of talking with people, seeing their faces, and hearing the emotions of their voices. This, however, is what we will attempt to do in the sharing of our stories.

Altar is 60 miles south of the border town of Sasabe, which is the migrants’ point of departure into the desert to head north. We did not go to Sasabe as it was deemed too dangerous for us to travel there. Sasabe is now a major entry point for drug runners into the U.S. as well as the migrants. In fact, the gang members, who fight each other for control of drug trafficking, add another hardship to the plight of the migrants.

The gangs will round up the migrants by force, and require them to follow some of the more well known routes across the desert as a large group, hence attracting the attention of the Border Patrol. While the Border Patrol’s attention is focused upon the migrants, the drug runners will seize the opportunity to transport their drugs into the country via another route. This is just another example in the long series of ways in which people are manipulated and used in their quest to seek new life.

Our group was met by Poncho as we were welcomed into his home for lunch after a 5-hour drive from Tucson to Altar. Poncho became involved in migrant ministry after seeing so many people traveling through Altar as they journeyed toward the United States. At one point around the year 2001, Altar had 1200 migrants coming into the community daily. Today that figure has dropped to approximately 800.

Initially, Poncho got involved simply to meet the basic needs of the people he saw: water, the proper shoes and clothing to face the trek. What he and others also discovered was that many coming from the southern reaches of the country had no understanding as to what the desert was like. In response, Poncho and others began trying to help the migrants understand and prepare for what they were about to face in their journey

This commitment to the migrant actually transformed the economics of the community. Poncho shared that one of the leading reasons why immigration north increased so dramatically was because of the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA. The Mexican government actually created some of the present economic hardships for their people through the NAFTA negotiation process.

For example, Mexico, which had been subsidizing farmers and agricultural products, ensuring a livable income, agreed that they would no longer do so. This meant that the Mexican farmers’ prices, including prices on goods grown for export, would have to increase for them to make a livable return. United States farmers, however, were not required to do the same. This meant that American agricultural interests, including the corporate farms, were able to send subsidized products into Mexico.

This policy made it impossible for the small Mexican farms to compete. One report noted that the Mexican farmer pre-NAFTA received $5 a bushel for corn, and after NAFTA subsidized American corn sold for $2.50 a bushel in Mexico, making it economically impossible for a Mexican farmer to survive.

Consequently, farmers needed to find work that would provide other sources of income. Many travelled to urban areas seeking employment in factories. Not everyone was able to find work, however, and for those who did, the wage of a factory worker in Mexico today is approximately $10-12 per day. Living at a subsistence level in Mexico costs $18 per day.

These conditions are found not only in Mexican owned factories, but also in U.S.-owned factories called Maquiladoras. These facilities are built in the border towns, such as Nogales, utilizing cheap labor while enjoying the free trade agreement which requires no tariffs or fees to import the goods.

This is obviously a good thing for the American consumer, as it allows us to receive cheaper products in our stores.

What does it mean that American policies and agreements create a lower standard of living for other people, and that these policies contribute to the present migration issue?

Is there an issue of ethics in this present scenario?

Is it ethical and moral for one group of people, or one nation to seek a higher standard of living at the expense of another group of people or another nation?

If we answer “No,” what, then, is our responsibility as Christians?

Seeing the real issue of drugs and gangs right at our border, does this not lend credence to the belief we must strengthen our borders and prevent crossings?

Does the focus on the migrant actually divert our attention from the real issues of border security and national security? Do our leaders keep our attention on this issue so we do not question their inaction on such issues as port security and airport security?

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