"As a documentary photographer and journalist, I don't claim to be an unbiased observer. I'm on the side of immigrant workers and unions in the United States and share their struggle for rights and a decent life. I take the side of people in Mexico trying to find alternatives for democratic political change. If the work I do helps to strengthen these movements, it will have served a good purpose."
David BaconPhoto: Katy Raddatz
David Bacon to Speak at Fundraiser for NH Program, September 14
More than 25 years since the last major revision of national immigration policy, comprehensive reform is now being debated in Congress. Eleven million undocumented immigrants living and working in the U.S. hope it will lead to legal status, but many fear it will also increase the criminalization of migrant status and vastly expand "guest worker" contract labor programs.
Now, in The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration, investigative reporter David Bacon exposes the way globalization and U.S. policy fuel the forces that drive Mexican migrants across the border. Through painstaking analysis and the voices of migrants themselves, Bacon reveals that the decision to come to the U.S. is rarely voluntary. Instead, the poverty that displaces indigenous communities across Mexico is the brutal consequence of globalization, as local economies crumble from the impact of trade agreements like NAFTA and economic reforms benefitting large corporations. Placing issues of displacement and human rights at the center of the U.S. immigration debate, Bacon examines the ways U.S. policy has criminalized migrants once they've been driven across the border.
Bacon’s east coast book tour begins Saturday, September 14, at a benefit for AFSC’s New Hampshire Program. Click here for details and to register.
Bacon scrutinizes one of the most controversial pieces of U.S. immigration policy, vastly expanded in current legislation: guest worker visas. These visas grant the right to stay in the United States while working, but, he shows, lead to a corrupt system of recruitment and low wages, and the massive violation of labor and human rights. Examining the roots of current systems in the Bracero Program, Bacon explains: "No employer brings guest workers into the country to pay more than absolutely necessary." Despite these impacts, though, every major immigration reform bill proposed over the past decade has called for the expansion of guest worker programs-including the legislation currently on the table.
The book, however, also documents a reality that Bacon asserts should reframe the immigration debate in the U.S. Indigenous Mexican communities that have been devastated by poverty and forced migration have organized a powerful new movement they call "the right to stay home." He traces the development of this movement, which seeks political democracy and economic development, in the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz, and presents the voices of its most eloquent advocates. By looking at the roots of migration, U.S. policy can help to create a viable future in migrant-sending communities, while integrating and protecting the rights of immigrant families in the United States.
Bacon investigates a series of factors, generated by increasingly rapid globalization as well as U.S. policy toward immigration and Mexico's economy, that have made it impossible for countless Mexicans to survive at home, including:
* Low wages and rural poverty: Bacon explains that high-paying jobs are evaporating across Mexico, replaced by low-paying ones: 95 percent of the jobs created in Mexico in 2010 pay around $10 a day, he notes, and 53 million Mexicans (half of the country's population) lives in poverty. Since 2006, less than one third of those needing work have been able to find it. Bacon explains that waves of Mexico's economic reforms decontrolled prices and ended consumer subsidies, creating favorable conditions for corporate investment but increasing poverty, especially in rural and indigenous communities.
* The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA): Bacon shows that NAFTA, introduced in 1994, crippled Mexico's economic sovereignty and steered its national policy toward export-based economic development, favoring large corporations producing for export. At the same time, massive imports devastated local Mexican economies, especially in farming, displacing millions of people. Since 1994, the number of Mexicans living in the U.S. rose from 4.6 to over 12 million - 11% of its population.
* Tilting the Playing Field Against Workers: Industries expanding in Mexico because of NAFTA and corporate economic reforms, especially mining, have created hazardous conditions. One 2006 coal mine explosion in Coahuila killed 65 miners. When copper miners struck against levels of dust that cause silicosis, the Mexican government and one of the world's largest mining companies cooperated to bust their union. The book analyzes three of the sharpest government anti-labor campaigns - the labor law reform, the firing of 44,000 electrical workers, and attacks on the miners. Bacon show that this systematic suppression of labor rights in Mexico is a significant cause of migration to the U.S.
Bacon underscores that Mexican migrants, once forced from their native lands, are then criminalized after they settle in the U.S - caught between two nations where they are denied basic rights. He traces the rise in criminalization of immigrants under President George W. Bush, especially the enormous spread of factory raids. Bacon then documents the continued criminalization of immigrants during President Barack Obama's first term in office, leading to the deportation of almost 400,000 people per year and the massive expansion of detention centers. The book focuses attention on one of the least visible parts of the administration's enforcement policy -- predatory I-9 audits and mass firings - the so-called "invisible raids." It documents as well the rise of new enforcement programs, like Secure Communities, that draw local law authorities into the hunt for immigrants, and the notorious "Operation Streamline" court in Tucson.
Bacon does more than highlight abuses, however. He draws a connection between the increase in enforcement and the increase in guest worker programs, intended, in the words of former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, "close the back door and open the front door." This connection, Bacon says, is the driver of much of current U.S. immigration policy.
Bacon says human rights, rather than criminalization or contract labor programs, should be the central issue in immigrant policy, a conclusion drawn from migrants' own words and experiences. In their narratives throughout the book, they envision a world in which migrating for work and survival isn't a forced necessity-a world where, instead, they have the "right to stay home." At the same time, they envision a world in which their rights as migrants are protected. "Migrants are human beings first, and their desire for community is as strong as the need to labor," Bacon writes. "Rather than reduce migrants to a factor of production, or a commodity to be exported and imported, migration policy must acknowledge migrants as human beings and address their dignity and human rights."
Award-winning photojournalist and author David Bacon spent twenty years as a labor organizer. For the last two decades he has been a reporter and documentary photographer, and a longtime radio host. His previous books include The Children of NAFTA, Communities Without Borders, and Illegal People (Beacon, 2008). He is an associate editor at Pacific News Service and writes for TruthOut, the Nation, the American Prospect, the Progressive, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications. As an immigrant rights activist he helped organize the Northern California Coalition for Immigrant Rights and the Labor Immigrant Organizers Network. He belongs to the Pacific Media Workers Guild/CWA.
Following the Concord event, Bacon will speak in Boston, New York, and Washington before returning to California.