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73 Chapter 5 A Wrench in the Works: U.S. Immigration Policies After 1986 T he year 1986 was pivotal for the political economy of North America. In that year, two events signaled the end of one era and the beginning of another: Mexico’s entry into the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and passage by the U.S. Congress of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). In Mexico a new political elite had succeeded in overcoming historical opposition within the ruling party and orchestrated the country’s entry into GATT. Then they boldly approached the United States to forge a new alliance that would ultimately create a free trade zone stretching from Central America to the North Pole. Even as U.S. officials worked closely with Mexican authorities to integrate the North American economy, however, they simultaneously acted to prevent the integration of its labor markets. Rather than incorporating the movement of workers into the new trade agreement, the United States insisted on the right to control its borders, and to underscore its resolve Congress passed IRCA. Thereafter the United States would pursue a politics of contradiction —simultaneously moving toward integration while insisting on separation. In time-honored fashion, the United States sought to have its cake and eat it too—to move headlong toward a consolidation of markets for capital, goods, commodities, and information, but simultaneously to pretend that North American labor markets would remain separate and distinct. In the ensuing years the United States would spend increasing financial and human resources to demonstrate to the American public that the border was under control and not porous with respect to migrants or drugs, even as it was becoming increasingly permeable with respect to numerous other flows. Ad- 74 Beyond Smoke and Mirrors mitting Mexican workers while pretending not to do so was nothing new. But whereas this sort of hypocrisy could be maintained at a relatively low cost during the bracero and undocumented eras, after 1986 the illusion became increasingly expensive to sustain, not only for the migrants themselves but for citizens and taxpayers on both sides of the border. The Roots of North American Integration In the decades leading up to the 1980s, Mexico’s political economy of import substitution industrialization (ISI) moved steadily toward its demise. As early as 1968, the limitations of ISI had become apparent. In that year what began as a small, localized movement of university students turned into a mass mobilization against the Mexican state. Demonstrators questioned the legitimacy of the political elite that had governed Mexico since the 1910 Revolution and challenged its commitment to social justice and democracy. Although Mexico’s statecentered program of economic growth had succeeded in building an industrial infrastructure and creating an urban middle class, it had also brought about rising inequality, a stagnant agrarian economy, a growing concentration of urban poverty, widening regional imbalances , and a self-serving bureaucracy that showed little interest in relinquishing power or allowing reform. The political mobilization of the late 1960s was ultimately put down by a bloody massacre of student demonstrators in Mexico City (Poniatowska 1971). Although the massacre quelled the uprising for the moment, it severely undermined the government’s standing among its citizens and thoroughly compromised its legitimacy. In 1970 a new president, Luis Echeverrı́a, assumed power and sought to restore the state’s lost stature. Having been minister of the Interior at the time of the student massacre, and therefore at least formally responsible for the slaughter, he no doubt felt a special need to make amends. Echeverrı́a sought to refurbish Mexico’s revolutionary credentials at home and abroad. Internationally he espoused an ideology of Third World liberation, cultivated relations with Cuba and other leftist governments , and made a point of voting against the United States in public forums such as the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS). Domestically he launched a massive expansion of the Mexican state, characterized by a sharp increase in social spending, a growing nationalization of private industry, and a rapid expansion of the federal bureaucracy. Over the course of his presidency the number of state-owned enterprises doubled, from 491 in A Wrench in the Works 75 1970 to 845 in 1976; over the same period total government employment grew from 616,000 to 2.1 million (Centeno 1994). To protect the inefficient industries he had acquired for the Mexican state, Echeverr ı́a tightened barriers to trade by raising tariffs, imposing new quotas...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781610443821
Print ISBN
9780871545893
MARC Record
OCLC
835507772
Pages
216
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-18
Language
English
Open Access
N
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