After President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in, one of his first orders of business should be to order the cessation of the construction of the walls along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.

One of the legacies that President George W. Bush will leave behind is a bizarre patchwork of walls that will forever symbolize failure and mass death.

In time, people will recognize that the failure of Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill during his reign rests squarely on the president’s shoulders – a failure that has resulted in the deaths of thousands along the southern border since he took office in 2001. That they were/are preventable is nothing short of negligent homicide, if not outright state terrorism.

That more people probably oppose the walls due to the destructive aspects of the wall to tourism and the environment is not surprising.

The first thing Obama should do regarding this issue is ask why peoples from Mexico and Central America continue to risk their lives to come to a land that seemingly does not want them … except perhaps as an exploitable labor force?

To educate himself on this issue, I suggest that he read “The Farmworker’s Journey” by Ann Lopez.

If he read this book, by the end of the first chapter he would be angry over the historical mistreatment of workers in Mexico, particularly indigenous people and campesinos. By chapter two, he would understand the historical collusion between both governments and the multinational corporations that super-exploit Mexican workers. By chapter three, he would learn that by now, Mexico’s only function – as a result of NAFTA – is to produce millions of babies, destined for cheap labor in the United States, without rights and without dignity.

By chapter four, he would also learn of the hundreds of tons of banned-in-the-U.S. toxic chemicals to which the Mexican population is subjected. By chapter five, he would understand that those banned cancer-causing pesticides are coming right back onto our kitchen tables. Halfway through the book, he would understand the destructive nature of NAFTA that has forced millions of people off the land – primarily as a result of heavily subsidized U.S. corn.

By chapter seven, he would learn of the incredible damage that these forced migrations and separations have caused Mexican families. By chapter eight, he would know about the fatal exposure to diseases – such as HIV/AIDS – that these migrants are being subjected to in the United States, and then bringing them home to Mexico (the rate is 10 times higher than the rest of the Mexican population).

By chapter nine, he would understand the meaning of starvation and why people continue to die in the deserts, mountains and rivers. By chapter 10, he would come to know that these migrants are greatly enriching corporations and filling U.S. tax coffers, even though most migrants will never see a dime. By chapter 11, he would come to understand that contrary to public pronouncements, the secretive NAFTA was never intended to take labor, the environment or migrants into account.

By the end of the book, he would be weeping, while calling for a halt to the construction of the walls. By then, he would apologize – on behalf of all Americans – for the treatment these migrants have received on both sides of the border.

Perhaps it is Congress that needs to read this book. Neither Obama nor Congress has to listen to human rights advocates. Obama simply can listen to lawmakers along the border, who view the walls as but a monument to Bush’s fear-based society.

Even Texas Rep. Sylvestre Reyes, former head of the Border Patrol in the El Paso sector, is one of those who is calling on Obama to halt their construction. Neither are two of his Cabinet choices, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, exactly champions of these walls.

Once sworn in, Obama should negotiate labor and trade agreements with Mexico and Central America.

But in these agreements, human beings have to come first – in both countries. No special rights need to be negotiated, just the right to be treated as full human beings and the corresponding full human rights that come with this status. This should also mean the end of massive raids and immoral detentions and deportations, plus the end of the categorization of hardworking migrants as illegal human beings.

Once such agreements are in place, the only dilemma will be: What will the U.S. do with all the excess metal?

© 2008 The Capital Times
Roberto Rodriguez, formerly of Madison and now a research associate at the University of Arizona in Tucson, offers a Latino/indigenous perspective on the Americas.