Why Wisconsin Needs Mexico
And how Trump’s get-tough policies will hurt the state.
Wisconsin doesn’t rank high as a state for Latinos. The proportion of Latino residents is just 6.4 percent, behind 31 states and the District of Columbia, as a Pew Foundation study found.
After all, we border Canada, not Mexico; we’re in the snow belt, not the Sun Belt. The fact that we are so are far to the north of Mexico helps explain why the state’s Latino percent is relatively low. And yet, Mexico is tremendously important to Wisconsin.
That’s because Wisconsin, as one of the leading manufacturing states, and with a thriving dairy industry, is a big exporter. The state ranks 16th in total exports. And next to Canada, more of those products are exported to Mexico than any other country. Mexico imported $2.9 billion worth of goods from Wisconsin in 2015, it has been estimated.
According Census Bureau statistics, an estimated 9.4 percent of Wisconsin’s exports go to Mexico, and an estimated 117,665 jobs in Wisconsin depend on trade with Mexico, which ranks Wisconsin ahead of 32 states in both categories.
And that trade has grown faster as a result of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. Mexico’s total bilateral trade with Wisconsin has grown 4 percent per year since 2005, and exceeds the country’s total trade with France, as Claudia Ruiz Massieu, secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, has noted.
Then there is Mexico’s impact on Wisconsin’s workforce. A recent study by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance found the state has lost more than 27,000 people to migration since 2010, meaning 27,000 more people have migrated from the state than have migrated to Wisconsin.
Mexican immigrants are particularly critical to Wisconsin’s dairy industry: about 60 percent of immigrants on dairy farms are undocumented, Gordon Speirs, a farmer from Brillion and president of the state’s Dairy Business Association, told the Chicago Tribune. “Without immigrant labor, dairies would close, output would drop and consumers would pay almost twice as much for milk, according to a study funded by dairy producers that estimated the cost to the U.S. economy at $32 billion,” the Tribune reported.
And the dairy industry impacts many other jobs in Wisconsin. “One in 10 jobs in Wisconsin is tied to the dairy industry,” as Milwaukee immigration attorney Eric Straub, who provides consulting for the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, estimated in a story by The Guardian.
But by far the biggest impact of Mexican immigrants is in the city of Milwaukee. As Mayor Tom Barrett noted at the recent opening of the Mexican Consulate in Milwaukee, the city’s population, after decades of decline, once again tops 600,000, and the reason is the growth in the Hispanic, mostly Mexican-American population. Immigrants work here in restaurants, bars, retail stores, the construction industry and more.
Can anyone imagine this city without Mexican restaurants? They are probably the most popular kind of restaurant in town and a draw to suburbanites coming to the city. Milwaukeeans are thrifty, after all, and what gives more value for your dining dollar than a Mexican restaurant?
As for the warning from a Trump supporter that America could end up with a “taco truck on every corner,” writer Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times offered his take on that dreadful scenario:
“Well, here in Los Angeles, we can tell the rest of the nation what that’s like.
“First of all, it smells really, really good, all the time. Let’s say you can’t sleep, so you roll out of bed and decide you’re hungry, but it’s 2 a.m.
“Open a window, take a deep breath and follow the scent of sizzling meat, onions and peppers to the nearest taco truck.
“Taco trucks are like palm trees here. Part of the landscape, and not hard to find.
“I’m not saying you’ll be able to sleep after you eat, but for just a couple of bucks you’ll have a full belly and a smile on your face.”
Really, would that be so bad for Milwaukee? Most voters don’t seem to think so. Charles Franklin’s Marquette Law School poll found that only 28 percent of Republicans, 20 percent of independents and 8 percent of Democrats favor Trump’s position of deporting all undocumented immigrants.
Ruiz Massieu warned that if all unauthorized Mexican immigrants were removed from Wisconsin, the state would lose $2.6 billion in economic activity and 14,600 jobs, citing a report from the Immigration Policy Institute.
And if Trump moved to kill NAFTA, Wisconsin’s thriving export industry would be dealt a deadly blow.
Small wonder Trump did so poorly here in the April Wisconsin primary. We’re a state that depends on good relations with Mexico, Mexican immigrants and Mexican culture. And frankly, the results are pretty tasty.