April 4, 2015
The Honorable Tim Kaine
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Senator Kaine,
Immigration policy and trade policy are two of the pressing issues facing Congress should be addressing this spring and summer. Yet we too often fail to recognize the relationship between the two issues.
As a fellow supporter of President Obama’s immigration executive actions, we hope you will recognize the role U.S. trade policy has played in accelerating mass-migration in recent decades. As you and the Senate get set to debate granting “fast track” authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, we wanted to share the implications of giving a rubber stamp to the TPP to migration pressures in the future.
We are finally making progress on immigration. Last Congress, after House Republicans refused to even vote on the immigration bill that passed the Senate, President Obama used his legal authority to jumpstart the reform process and address the status of millions of undocumented immigrants with longstanding lives in America. Despite the recent legal ruling suspending the programs from going into effect, I remain optimistic that justice will prevail and that the courts will recognize the legality of the president’s executive actions.
But we need to have a related conversation. What drove these workers here in the first place? While we appreciate the enormous richness that immigrants have brought to the United States and herald the country’s growing diversity, we don’t support systems that force people to migrate against their will. This forced migration is caused by economic conditions in general, and U.S. trade policies in particular.
Past trade deals NAFTA and CAFTA disrupted the farming and manufacturing sectors of Mexico and Central American countries and helped accelerate migration to the U.S. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that the number of undocumented immigrants from Mexico grew five-fold between 1990, before NAFTA, and 2007. In the first seven years after CAFTA’s passage, the Central American share of the undocumented immigrant population in the U.S. jumped 26 percent.
These are lessons Senator Kaine that I hope you reflect on before voting to rubber stamp the TPP through “fast track” authority. Not only should Congress have more oversight and input into the content of the TPP, but our lawmakers should reflect on what the TPP could mean for the economies of Mexico and Central America and for our future immigration policy in the United States.
Manufacturing operations in NAFTA and CAFTA nations could move to cheaper Asian markets if the TPP goes into effect. With their normal livelihoods disrupted and job opportunities drying up, many will embark on a dangerous trip north.
At a time when we are finally taking steps to address the plight of undocumented immigrants in America, we should not advance trade policies that could spur new migration pressures. The TPP and the dominant approach to U.S. trade policy remains a bad deal not just for workers in the United States, but for workers everywhere.
Thank you and we would enjoy the chance to further engage with you and your office on this critical issue for the state, country and our communities.