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Trump’s immigrant-bashing omits that business owners like him are to blame

Donald Trump is wrong to blame immigrants for the nation’s woes. 

Business owners like him, those benefiting from trade agreements, are guilty of creating the conditions that brought immigrants to our door in the first place.  

{mosads}In the same breath, Trump also complains that the U.S. is losing jobs to MexicoIndustry leaders have sought to increase their profits by exploiting lower wages in less-developed countries such as China and Mexico.

Trump should know. The Trump clothing line formerly sold in Macy’s, is manufactured in Mexico and VietnamDecisions to manufacture abroad have been largely driven by international “free trade” agreements.  

Proponents of free trade give it credit for stimulating economic growth.

But it only benefits business owners like Trump.

Remember NAFTA?

These agreements go back even further.

In the case of Mexico, the United States second largest trading partner, the loss of manufacturing jobs to that country is more than 50 years in the making. It began when the Border Industrialization Program, which established free trade zones along the border in 1965.

On the Mexican side of the border there was a surplus of underemployed workers, displaced Mexican farmworkers, or “braceros,” from the terminated U.S. guest worker program bearing the same name.

The experiment worked so well that the strategy was expanded to all of Mexico with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, the result of an aggressive business lobby that convinced the U.S. Congress that NAFTA would stem migration from Mexico. Cross border trade flourished. Automobile manufacturing, too, blossomed—but in Mexico. To remain competitive, U.S. automakers laid off workers or cut wages.

At the same time, NAFTA also paved the way for exporting corn to Mexico, its stable crop formally protected with tariffs. Unable to compete with the low prices of U.S. subsidized corn production, Mexican farmers began to fold, and migration from areas dependent on corn cultivation began to increase. Migration provided a way for them to survive this economic devastation, and for this they have been scapegoated.

These agreements eliminate many of the costs associated with producing, importing, and exporting goods. The agreements thus incentivize U.S. companies investments in those countries where the cost to manufacture goods—especially the cost of labor—is less than what it would be if their operations were in the U.S., saving them millions of dollars.

Even so, in 1992, presidential candidate and businessman Ross Perot was outspoken in his opposition to NAFTA, accurately predicting that American jobs would be lost.

Today, most of the Republican presidential candidates may find it convenient to remain silent on Trump’s demonization of immigrants and his irresponsible omission of the circumstances that fueled economic catastrophes both here and in Mexico. 

His appearance in a Phoenix Arizona campaign rally this month received accolades by high-profile immigrant foes: Sherriff Joe Arpaio, and former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer who said Trump is “telling it like it is.” Never mind that both Brewer and Arpaio are subjects of investigation for their roles in the development and enforcement of anti-immigration  laws in that state.

Uncritical acceptance of Trump’s inaccurate portrayal of immigrants without acknowledging the role that business leaders and trade agreements have had in migrant-sending countries undermines reasoned conversations about important matters of today.

O’Leary is associate professor and head of the Department of Mexican American Studies at the University of Arizona and a public voices fellow with The OpEd Project. She is editor of a two-volume encyclopedia on the experiences of undocumented immigrants in the United States.

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