Migrants represent global movement of the poor


by Tim W. Shenk
Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations (CUSLAR)

Migrants ride on the tops of trains north through Mexico, hundreds at a time. In addition to extreme weather and the dangers of falling from the train, they face increasingly organized networks of criminals – sometimes in collusion with state agencies – who prey on their vulnerability.

Mexican Minister of the Interior Miguel Osorio Chong estimated that 200,000 adults, families and unaccompanied children made the often months-long journey from their homes in Central America through Mexico toward the United States in 2012. In spite of the dangers, this journey is preferable to staying home.

This issue’s cover photo reflects the reality that more and more people are on the move: 214 million people worldwide are living outside of their country of origin, double the figure from 30 years ago, according to United Nations data.

Migration is a global phenomenon that has been greatly accelerated by global economic and humanitarian crises. Shifting economic priorities, technological advances, war, state and gang violence and continued incursion of transnational corporations into rural life have contributed to massive displacement of people. Not just another identity group, migrants represent the global movement of the poor and dispossessed.

CUSLAR is committed to upholding the human rights of all people. Part of that is contributing to effective global responses to situations in which individuals and families find themselves forced to migrate in order to pursue a decent life.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that “the prescription for the cure rests with the accurate diagnosis of the disease.” That is, in order to work toward viable solutions, it’s necessary to understand the economic and political elements triggering migration and to be able to critically examine arguments on all sides of the debate. For example, as we see on page 6, not all proponents of U.S. immigration reform have migrants’ interests in mind.

This issue of the CUSLAR Newsletter showcases the work of CUSLAR’s two study/work groups, the Migrations group and the Paulo Freire study group. In concentrating our educational work on migrations and land rights, CUSLAR is attempting to connect issues that are often dealt with separately.

The Migrations group has analyzed the framing of immigration: as a problem of national security (p.3), as a question of assimilation (p.5), as a necessity for U.S. employers (p.6) and as an issue of fundamental human rights (p.9).

The Freire Study Group has focused this year on issues of land, food sovereignty and peasants’ rights in the Southern Cone, especially on the Landless Workers’ Movement of Brazil and on efforts for justice after the 2012 Marina Kue massacre in Paraguay (p.13-15). Read more about the study/work groups on page 16.

Each group is looking at particular ways that people in the Americas are affected by the way the global economy works. Over the past two decades and especially since the 2008 crisis, investors have poured significant capital into buying land to control natural resources and biodiversity and to develop agribusiness. In 2011 the World Bank reported a 12-fold increase in the amount of agricultural land acquired by foreign investors. Development Sociologist Philip McMichael notes that “with rising energy and food prices, land has become the object of speculative investment.”

The globalization of food production and the move from peasant production to agribusiness have caused the displacement of two million people in rural Mexico in the 20 years since NAFTA’s implementation. In Brazil and Paraguay, industrial soy production for export is more profitable than growing food for local markets. Rural workers made superfluous by monocropping and heavy machinery are obligated to join the waves of migrants seeking to make a living in cities or abroad.

Societies throughout history have established codes and laws to provide for everyone, including migrants. The Judeo-Christian texts of Leviticus and Deuteronomy are very clear that the Hebrew people were to save a portion of their harvest for the foreigner, the widow and the orphan so all might have enough.

At CUSLAR we’re asking: With the way the global economy is currently structured, can the rights of the foreigner, the widow and the orphan truly be guaranteed?

Can we imagine a world in which migration could be a choice, not a requirement to survive? We’ve heard about the right to adequate food, education and health care.
But what about the right to safe passage? Or as David Bacon suggests, the right
to stay home?

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