Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

NAFTA’s Exaggerated Promise for Immigration

NAFTA was and remains an economic agreement. Yet it can help establish the basis for better bilateral cooperation on immigration.

The  North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) created an intentionally unequal system for the entry of Canadian and Mexican professionals to the U.S. while flatly rejecting calls by some for including broader migration in the pact. Taking such migration off the table was in deference to U.S. Congressional opposition and that body’s jealously guarded plenary power over immigration—as well as to the expectation of popular furor over its inclusion. The result was a narrow opening in the temporary admission of about 60 classes of professionals that tracked very closely what had been agreed to in the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement of 1988. Understandably, then, NAFTA’s direct impact on U.S.-Mexico migration would be minimal, while its indirect effects would prove to be unfulfilled.

Indeed, looking at NAFTA through the lens of migration is fundamentally misdirected—after all, it is a trade and investment pact—and as a result fraught with immense difficulties. Events such as the 1994 Mexican peso devaluation and subsequent economic crisis and the remarkably strong U.S. economic growth later in that decade, confound attempts to measure the agreement’s precise, if still indirect, effects on Mexican migration to the U.S. Further complicating factors include migration’s deep roots in the two countries’ relationship (stretching back to the 1880s), and massive changes in the world economy (especially the rise of China) that have made production in Mexico less competitive.

Nevertheless, the attempt to isolate NAFTA’s contribution to the current migration picture must begin with an examination of what the agreement was intended to achieve…


Tags: Demetrios Papademetriou, Immigration, Migration Policy Institute, NAFTA, NAFTA'S Exaggerated Promise for Immigration
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