By Tim Wise
Democratic Party leaders recently introduced their latest proposal to reform U.S. immigration policy. The proposal, which is given little chance of passage in a polarized election year, offers carrots and sticks in an attempt to bring some semblance of order to a broken and outdated policy that has left nearly 12 million people in the United States without legal documents.
The carrots are few and shriveled: an arduous path to U.S. citizenship for those already in the country. The sticks are large: a further crackdown on border enforcement and increased policing to catch and punish those without papers. No combination of carrots and sticks will address the immigration issue unless reform efforts also take up the agricultural, trade, and labor policies that feed migration.
The Meat of the Matter
Industrial livestock firms such as Smithfield and Tyson are among the big winners from the range of U.S. policies, which serve them both inside the United States and across the border in Mexico. These multinational giants are so dependent on immigrant labor — documented and undocumented — that they shut many of their packing houses to avoid the embarrassment of empty factories when labor protests on May 1, 2006 declared a “Day without Immigrants.”
These companies also benefit from U.S. agricultural policies. Reforms in the 1996 Farm Bill deregulated the last vestiges of the supply-management policies the government had used to balance supply and demand, and to maintain stable prices for consumers and remunerative prices for farmers. With deregulation, land that had been held out of production came back in, production jumped, and prices fell 40 percent to levels well below the costs of production.
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