The largest surge ever in legal and unauthorized Mexican migration to the US began after the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect, according to sociologist James W. Russell, who studied migration patterns between 1910 and 2008 for his new book, Class and Race Formation in North America (University of Toronto Press, 2009).
In 1990, before NAFTA went into effect, 13.6% of Mexican-origin persons in the three countries of North America—the US, Mexico and Canada—lived in the United States. By 2000, after the entry into force of NAFTA, that percentage jumped to 17.5—the largest ever ten-year increase.
In 2005, the last year for which figures exist, it jumped further to 20.5%. Put differently, between 1990 and 2005 the Mexican-origin population in the United States increased by over 50%. This occurred despite former Mexican and US presidents Carlos Salinas de Gortari and Bill Clinton both arguing that with NAFTA Mexico would export products rather than people. Precisely the opposite occurred, Russell finds.
Russell argues that NAFTA allowed tariff-free imports to flood into Mexico, taking markets away from many Mexican peasants and manufacturers. With work no longer available, displaced peasants and workers joined in increasing numbers the migrant route north into the United States.
Russell, a professor of sociology at Eastern Connecticut State University and formerly a Fulbright scholar at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, writes that “NAFTA had the same effect on migration and for the same reasons that Operation Bootstrap had in stimulating migration from Puerto Rico to the United States from the 1950s to the present. Before Operation Bootstrap went into effect there were relatively few Puerto Ricans living in the United States. Now over half (50.8 percent) live in the United States.” (Author’s press release, Jan. 16)