Imperialism and Immigration: The Connections We Need to Make


“We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it” was the tweet birthed by billionaire Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and CEO of Tesla Motors, July 25, in reference to the right-wing coup forced upon the Bolivian people at the hands of Wall Street. The reason? Lithium.

U.S. imperial history is vast, dating back to the extermination of Indigenous peoples and the enslavement of Africans. In fact, the U.S. was born in its expansion and accumulation. Its sordid pursuit of Manifest Destiny first bore fruit in Latin America and the Caribbean. So it’s only natural that this perfecter of capitalism-imperialism continues to allow corporations to oppress any nation it desires for their natural resources. The U.S. state often advocates on behalf of multinational corporations and, more often than not, the capitalists and the elected officials are a visible rotation.

This collusion between the state and capital would bring forth the largest empire in human history — the United States of America — with a leading role played by its expansive military force. Within the political structure, Republicans and Democrats, alike regularly criminalize immigrant communities. But, what they fail to mention is why people migrate to begin with. For Latinxs in the U.S., our journey here is a result of the vicious domination of the economic and political institutions of our homelands.

Mexico and Neoliberalism

Mexico is on the receiving end of the U.S. imperial knife. In the mid-1800s, the U.S. invaded and robbed vast swaths of Mexico’s northern territory including the current state of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, parts of New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. These lands represented 55 percent of its national territory at the time. Though the physical war ended, the war for natural resources had just begun.

Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution of 1917 was a result of the hard-fought victories of the Mexican Revolution led by Emiliano Zapata and Francisco “Pancho” Villa. It extends the rights of the Mexican people to include water, minerals and land. It also grants the state authority to expropriate land to redistribute to eligible agrarian communities. Since 1917, this article has been under attack by Mexico’s ruling class.

In 1991 President Carlos Salinas de Gortari stood before the federal legislature and fought to remove Article 27’s guarantees, which banned corporations and foreign investors from purchasing collectivized rural land holdings (or ejidos), a communal organization system that dates back to Latin America’s Indigenous ancestors. His plan passed. What came next was the massive land theft from the Indigenous communities to the highest bidding corporations, erasing one of the most significant victories of the Mexican Revolution.

The truth about the Northern American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, is obvious by examining the living conditions of Mexican society. In 2017, the Center for Economic and Policy Research reported, “If NAFTA had been successful, Mexico today would be a high-income country, with income per person significantly higher than that of Portugal or Greece. It is unlikely that immigration reform would have become a major political issue in the United States, since relatively few Mexicans would seek to cross the border.” Plus, “Mexico’s poverty rate of 55.1 percent in 2014 was higher than the poverty rate of 1994. As a result, there were about 20.5 million more Mexicans living below the poverty line.”

NAFTA thus generated an enormous displacement of the working class at a time Mexico was experiencing a population boom. Between 1900-1990, the population of Mexico grew from 14 million to 82 million. These factors contributed to the large migration of workers from Mexico to the U.S during the 20th century.

Banks Finance Murder and Misery

The people of Latin America continue to suffer at the hands of the cartels. But cartels are only able to function successfully because of the U.S. banking system. In March 2010, executives of former bank Wachovia admitted to laundering $378 billion in drug money. Wachovia’s anti-money laundering director Martin Woods told Bloomberg, “It’s the banks laundering money for the cartels that finance the tragedy (in Mexico).” Wachovia is not alone — Bank of America, Wells Fargo and HSBC are part of a long history of funneling dirty money through the banks at the cost of human life.

In 1935, Marine General Smedley Butler, a highly decorated soldier in U.S. history said:

“I spent thirty-three years and four months in active service in the country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico, and especially Tampico, safe for American oil interest in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Banks boys to collect revenue in. I helped in the raping of half-a-dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long.”

Latinx people have faced centuries of violence as a result of colonial and imperial domination. While media pundits debate over “criminals” invading the country, they ignore the driving force of human migration. Immigrants are the by-products of a global structure that has destroyed their homeland. This allows capital and goods to flow freely across borders but labels workers as “aliens.”


When the hand of the “free market” aggressively tries to grip Latin American countries, it is met with a rebellion. In the mid-1970s the U.S. financed and trained dictators in the region through the Schools of Americas program, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute of Security Cooperation. The people of Nicaragua with the leadership Frente Sandinista para la Liberación Nacional, FSLN, overthrew the Somoza family dictatorship. This inspired neighboring country El Salvador to form the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional, FMLN, in the struggle against U.S.-trained dictators ruling their country.

“NAFTA: a death sentence for the Indigenous people of Mexico,” said Subcomandante Marcos, leader of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, EZLN, during his fight against neoliberal policies. The struggle for Indigenous communities is for the self-determination of their land and resources. They are resisting the selling of their resources to mining, oil and tourist industries of the highest bidding. Their fight is against poverty that forces them to migrate.

Capitalist politicians continue their anti-immigration arguments on the assertion that we are breaking the law and smuggling drugs, but ignore the root causes that force people to escape their homelands destroyed by imperialism. Here we are systematically denied our rights while we contribute millions in taxes and essential labor. The immigrant rights struggle is in essence a fight against a parasitic system built for the profit of Wall Street. It’s time everyone connected these important dots.

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