In the Mexican countryside, we saw towns decimated by migration, where farmers whose families had raised corn for generations watched as their livelihoods vanished, undermined by cheaper US imports.
At the border near Arizona, we learned about the human rights crisis that has forced migrants into the desert, leading to 6,000 confirmed deaths, and many more unconfirmed.
This past Saturday in Centereach, I joined a cross-section of Long Islanders gathered for a common purpose: to study the roots of migration and work for change.
The meeting was a follow-up for dozens of Long Islanders who have traveled to Mexico with the grassroots educational organization Witness for Peace. Since January 2010, the organization has run two trips to Oaxaca, Mexico, to examine the roots of migration, and a trip to the US-Mexico border near Arizona to study the border crisis (see the video below). I was lucky enough to be able to join the first delegation to Oaxaca as well as the delegation to the border.
Many of the trip attendees—from different towns and professions, with education, law enforcement, and faith all represented—brought along friends in the hopes of widening the impact of what we learned.
One of the main topics at hand was free trade, specifically the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Since NAFTA was enacted in 1994, 2 million Mexicans have been displaced from the agricultural sector while the rural poverty rate has climbed to 85 percent. In a country where 10 million people—a quarter of the workforce—live off the land, the inability to compete has increased poverty and forced more people to consider migrating, either to the US or other parts of Mexico. You can find similar trends in Central America, where countries have comparable free trade agreements with the US.
Members of the January 2010 delegation from Long Island to Oaxaca (left to right: Witness for Peace trip leader Ben Beachy, Rahsmia Zatar, and Sergio Argueta
Beyond learning about the causes of migration, the group explored ways to make Long Island a welcoming place for all people, regardless of where a person was born. In the coming months, participants in the session hope to bring some of their ideas to fruition, and we’ll be following the progress on Long Island Wins.
Click the links below for essays, photos, and video from the various delegations to Mexico:
—a radio report on the roots of migration and free trade, drawing on the experiences of the Long Island delegates
—an article on San Juan Sosola, one of many disappearing villages in the Mexican countryside