It is a common misconception that the maquiladoras are not a positive development for Mexicans. The usual complaints are that Mexican workers make $5 a day, that they are living in bad conditions and that somehow the evil American capitalist is taking advantage of them. This is the same reasoning as by those who are up in arms about "sweat shops."
The reality is the maquiladoras are a godsend to Mexico. It's not like Mexican workers have lots of other options. Those who whine about the maquilas act as if somehow there are $10-per-hour jobs just around the bend, and the maquilas drove them out of business. The truth is that without these mostly-American owned firms employing 1 million workers, these workers wouldn't have jobs, and unfortunately, that would lead to more immigration, more problems on the border, more poverty, more child prostitution and more donkey shows. Now perhaps we see the real reason that people oppose the maquilas--they want cheaper girls for their Mexican "tours."
In 1997, the maquiladoras employed almost 1 million people at more then 4,000 plants, and the average worker was making $4.80 a day (www.bomchilgroup.org/mexsep98.html). The idea, created in 1965, was to allow American companies to assemble items duty-free in Mexico within 10 miles of the border for shipment back to America. Today, under NAFTA, those goods may now remain in Mexico. According to Corpwatch.org, in 1998, 472,000 of the employees were women, legally employed at the young age of 16. In Baja California alone, in a given year, as many as 250 new Maquiladoras opened their doors (www.environmentalhealth.org/maquiladoras.html ). The National Council for Science and the Environment reported that in 1998, they represented $52.7 billion, and 45 percent of all Mexican exports. The companies make almost every item one could imagine, from garments to electrical accessories. Despite what one would expect of the 2,500 companies, in 1997, only 1,800 were American. Corpwatch.org admits that the workers are making as much as twice the minimum wages. The Associated Press claimed in 2000 that around 20 percent of Mexicans earn minimum wage (40.35 pesos, or $3.72 a day), which means even without the maquiladoras, Mexicans wouldn't be making more money.
Those who criticize the system claim that the maquilas pollute the environment, they pay bad wages, and they abuse workers. Every one of these claims is basically true. However, they are not the fault of the maquiladora; rather, it is the fault of the Mexican government for not passing child-labor laws, better minimum-wage laws, safety standards and environmental standards. Mexico is behind the curve on these things, and the organizations that pressure the maquilas should be spending their time in Mexico City lobbying the government while leaving these companies to do their work--work that gives money to average Mexicans, keeps young girls off the street and saves more than 1 million people from the tragedy of the coyotes and border smuggling. Since it costs as much as $1,000 to be smuggled across the border, the maquiladoras are doing a service by saving people what amounts to more than a year's work in smuggling fees. What Mexico needs is not less maquilas, but rather another few million jobs to stem the tide of illegal migration.
When asked about how the late Pope John Paul II would feel about the maquilas, Maryangela Salomon claimed: "I think he would be proud of prostitutes getting a real job, but not that people in maquiladoras have really bad work conditions." America and many other countries have wrestled with the problems of balancing workers' rights and the minimum wage against having a strong economy and free-market capitalism. As we know, the 1880s saw the suppression of workers and the rise of trusts and monopolies. By the 1960s, we had heavily polluted rivers and other side affects of mass industrialization.
Today, we have beaten these evils back. It stands as a challenge to Mexico to do the same. While Mexico must fight this fight on its own, there is no reason to deny Mexicans the right to work in their own country rather than live humiliated lives here, where they are taken advantage of by those who exploit illegal immigrants.