For the millions of immigrants who have left their countries due to the failed economic policies of the past twenty-five years, this week's arrest and deportation of Elvira Arellano and resulting separation from her only child is nothing new. It is only the most recent example of families being broken up by a corporate-driven globalization model that couples harmful economic policy with unjust immigration policy.
The fundamental reality of immigration is that migration is a necessity, not an option for millions around the world. Individuals weigh the severity of leaving their families behind against taking the gamble of earning a living in a richer country with more economic opportunities.
Ms. Arellano made that difficult decision to provide economic security for herself and her loved ones. But the flawed economic and immigration policies of corporate-driven globalization that forced her to look outside of Mexico to find a better living in the first place, led ultimately to her deportation.
Unfettered trade (e.g., under the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA), privatization of state-run industry and services, and the triumph of investor rights over labor rights have not only failed to reduce poverty or create economic growth, they have made conditions worse. NAFTA precipitated the loss of 1 million manufacturing jobs in the U.S. and the displacement of 3 million farmers in Mexico.
Rather than acknowledge the failures of NAFTA, the U.S., Mexico, and Canada discussed the expansion of these failed trade and economic policies this week at their Security and Prosperity Partnership summit. Their final statement called NAFTA "a tremendous mutual success" and planned to "build on NAFTA's success and reduce unnecessary trade barriers."
In reality, these policies have failed, forcing people to transfer labor and capital by migrating away from their families to work in rich countries and send money transfers, or remittances, back to their loved ones in impoverished communities around the world. The World Bank estimates these remittances are now bigger than official development assistance and foreign direct investment in impoverished countries. Inflows from Mexicans living abroad, for example, represent the country's second largest source of foreign income behind oil exports.
An immediate challenge faced by immigrant communities is the high fees incurred when sending money. Spending billions to send money back home for food, urgent medical care and education is a major economic security issue. Studies show that if money-transfer fees were cut in half, 33 million people could be lifted out of poverty in the developing world. Immigrant workers spend up to a week's wages to pay these yearly fees; for families in their home countries, the fee represents almost two month's worth of wages.
This is why immigrants have joined the Transnational Institute for Grassroots Research and Action to pressure the global money transfer giant, Western Union, to lower fees and prioritize community reinvestment in sustainable development. Such a move would make the money transfer industry more accountable to its customer base: immigrants who often work low-paying jobs with little regulation. This scenario is grounded in economic reality; wire transactions cost less than $5 to a company that charges more than $20.
Until we prioritize the economic security of families like Elvira's, we leave little choice but for millions to migrate to provide for their loved ones. As the laws in place continue to disrespect and disregard these economic realities, people like Ms. Arellano will continue to cross borders and face subsequent deportation. As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from Birmingham jail forty-years ago: "One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."
If we want to move beyond such injustice as a society, we must broaden efforts that work to make migration a choice and not a necessity while holding financial institutions accountable to immigrants. Shifting focus from simply border security to economic security is the first step.