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Latino activists press Hillary Clinton on major Pacific trade pact

Supporting immigration reform without opposing Trans-Pacific Partnership is misguided, advocacy groups say

When Hillary Clinton travels to Southern California Thursday evening to attend a $2,700-a-plate fundraiser in the Beverly Hills–area home of billionaire media mogul Haim Saban, a small group of Latino activists will be waiting to greet her.

On the heels of the presidential candidate's recent remarks on immigration — in which she went embraced a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and vowed to uphold and expand on President Barack Obama’s executive actions — protesters with Presente.org, a Latino advocacy organization, will press Clinton to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a major trade agreement being negotiated among the United States and other Pacific Rim nations.

As far as some advocates are concerned, supporting immigration reform without opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership is counterproductive. And as much as the Clinton campaign seems to be courting the crucial Hispanic vote in 2016 — a key part of Obama’s winning coalition in 2008 and 2012 — for some Latino activists, it falls short.

They argue that past trade pacts and the economic devastation they precipitated in Mexico, Central America and other parts of Latin America played roles in propelling the wave of migration to the U.S. in the 1990s and early 2000s — a major factor in the present-day immigration crisis that Congress has left unaddressed.

“To think of a policy that can once again uproot and force millions of people to migrate north as a result of a trade agreement that is only going to maximize profits for multinational corporations — it’s unimaginable,” said Arturo Carmona, the executive director of Presente, who will be speaking at the protest Thursday. “That’s why Presente and a number of Latino organizations have stood against TPP.”

Some argue that TPP will be as destabilizing as its much-maligned predecessor the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). As a result of NAFTA, Mexico was flooded with low-cost agricultural imports from U.S., which put rural Mexican farmers out of work. From 1993, the year before NAFTA went into effect, to 2000, the annual number of Mexican-born migrants living in the U.S. doubled, from 370,000 to 770,000, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“Secretary Clinton did the right thing on immigration reform a few days ago,” said Gustavo Torres, the executive director of Casa de Maryland, another group opposed to the TPP. “But if she supports the TPP, it’s not going to help, because thousands of people are going to come to the United States and we’re going to be in the same position. We need to be consistent in our policies and procedures.”

Robert Blecker, an economics professor at American University who studies international trade, said that NAFTA could not fully account for the migration that took place during the 1990s and 2000s. But he said it did not solve the problem either, as former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari promised at the time.

“That clearly did not happen. After NAFTA went into effect in 1994, migration increased tremendously,” he said. “The trade agreements are not a panacea. They’re not certainly the only reason for migration, but they don’t seem to stop it.”

Hillary Clinton has so far dodged questions about her position on the TPP, although she made supportive comments about the deal during her time as secretary of state.

“Any trade deal has to produce jobs and raise wages and increase prosperity and protect our security, and we have to do our part in making sure we have the capabilities and the skills to be competitive,” she told reporters in New Hampshire last month, without commenting on the TPP specifically.

Her hedge is a marked contrast from other Democrats chalking out more progressive positions on trade, like fellow 2016 candidate Bernie Sanders, potential contender Martin O’Malley, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who have all strongly opposed giving Obama fast-track authority to more easily negotiate the final elements of the TPP.

“The reason that we believe Hillary Clinton is critical to this issue is that she is very likely to be the next president of the United States, and we need a candidate that reflects and understands the issues of Latino communities,” Carmona said. “Trade agreements like TPP can have a disastrous effect on our families and our Latin American brothers and sisters.”

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