Photo: Martha Ojeda
Her more than two decades of labor activism on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border led Martha Ojeda to rate deportations as the top political protest topic for the Latino community.
“What’s behind them is ideology,” she said in an interview with Efe.
Without the recession, deportations would not have reached the volume they have in recent years, according to this Mexican woman, who applied for political asylum in the United States in the 1990s and who is one of the most critical voices against the North American Free Trade Agreement, now in its 10th year.
To politicians and public opinion, the new activists exemplify with their own stories the injustices so often repeated on protesters’ banners: the deportation of a brother or sister, lack of a job, the latest police raid, the obstacles to renting an apartment.
Are these injustices planned?
“Yes, definitely,” she answered. “We know that Obama could issue an executive order against deportations and, even though it’s provisional, it’s very complicated for them to take away something once you’ve got it.”
There are no protests in the United States by the Latino community that fail to reproach President Barack Obama for the incredible number of more than 2 million immigrants deported to their countries of origin since he came to occupy the Oval Office in January 2009.
“All these deportations are ideologically motivated,” Ojeda said, pointing to the 2008 economic crisis as the trigger. “They did the same thing during the crisis of 1930. The United States opens and closes its doors when it wants to and when it needs our labor.”
Born in Nuevo Laredo, just across the Rio Grande from Laredo, Texas, Ojeda has a law degree and is currently campaign organizer with the Fe y Justicia Worker Center in Houston.
But before all that, she worked for 20 years as a laborer in the maquiladoras, the mostly foreign-owned assembly plants that sprang up in northern Mexico under NAFTA, where she became a union leader and where her workmates defrayed the cost of her law studies.
“We were paid miserable wages and we produced articles we couldn’t afford,” she said.
In 1994, while working for Sony, she led a strike that shut down seven factories in Nuevo Laredo, which sparked an iron-fisted repression of the workers.
Ojeda then fled to the United States, sought political asylum and worked in factories in San Antonio.
She naturally sees a clear cause-and-effect relationship between what she denounced in Mexico in 1994 and what she denounces in the United States in 2014.
For Ojeda, the influx of U.S. capital into Mexico under NAFTA left thousands of farmworkers without work and with emigration to the north their only option, while closure of the maquiladoras during the global economic crisis revived drug trafficking and border insecurity.