USA Needs to Show Respect, Patience

Part Three: Toward Post-Election Practicalities


• The United States should no longer entertain the possibility of negotiating a bilateral migration agreement with Mexico. Determining how to control its borders is an internal U.S. policy decision and one that U.S. citizens and their representatives are currently unwilling to share with their southern neighbor. This reluctance is particularly true given Mexico’s limited ability to police its borders, an essential component of any migration agreement. Given this reality, indications from the United States that it might be willing to negotiate with Mexico over the establishment and/or implementation of migration policy merely sets Mexico up for another disappointment at the hands of the United States. This persistent irritant in the bilateral relationship during the past five years must be eliminated. • The U.S. Congress must realize that there is no quick fix to illegal migration. It is logistically impossible to forcibly remove a significant number of the 6 million plus Mexicans living illegally in the United States. Nor is it feasible to close the U.S. southern border to migrant flows or to halt the employment of unauthorized workers in the short term. Illegal migration from Mexico has gained momentum over several decades due to powerful demographic and economic forces on both sides of the border, and it will take the patient application of consistent policies on several fronts and over many years to begin regulating this human flow. Those policies could include border controls, employer sanctions enforcement, earned legalization, and new avenues of legal migration, including a guest worker program. Whatever the policy mix, however, the American public and its representatives should start with the realization that changing migration patterns from Mexico will be a long, gradual process.

• If the United States is serious about reducing migration from Mexico, it should help Mexico create the 500,000 new jobs needed each year to employ its would-be migrants. The United States must accept the fact that its southern neighbor is a developing country, even if an advanced one, that would benefit from assistance in its efforts to employ a rapidly expanding workforce. As long as Mexico cannot employ these workers at home, they will migrate, and so this assistance is not charity but pursuit of U.S. Self-interests.

• The key to helping Mexico is not aid but fairer trade. The United States must stop insisting that Mexico accept subsidized agricultural exports like chicken and corn. It must stop blocking imports of Mexican goods that are more competitive than U.S. products (tuna and citrus, for example) and allow Mexican truck drivers to compete fairly with their U.S. counterparts. And it should consider allowing Mexico to protect sectors of its domestic economy that generate a great deal of employment. The United States must accept the fact that if Mexico cannot export its goods to its main trading partner, it is destined to export its labor instead.

• The United States should expand loan guarantees provided by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, focusing these funds on investments in labor-intensive sectors of the Mexican economy. It should also revive and expand the Partnership for Prosperity’s education, infrastructure, and investment programs. By focusing on those parts of Mexico that have benefited least from NAFTA, this assistance program helps encourage job creation in migrant-sending regions of the country.

• For its part, Mexico should stop insisting on bilateral migration talks with the United States. It must learn from the failings of this strategy during the Fox administration. Given the current political climate in the United States, Mexico’s preference for legalization and a large guest worker program are problematical at best. The strong “restrictionist” pressures that are particularly evident in the U.S. House of Representatives and Mexico’s limited credibility in U.S. policy circles in promising to police its borders to control further migration mean that any bilateral negotiation will inevitably fall short of Mexico’s ambitions.


• The best way for the United States to help Mexico carry out the fiscal, energy, and labor reforms required to enhance Mexican and North American economic compete-tiveness is to be patient and remain quiet. As this report has indicated, carrying out these policy changes will be difficult and time-consuming regardless of who is elected president of Mexico on July 2. It is also likely that many of the policy proposals and negotiated compromises will not reflect what is ideal for the United States. Nevertheless, U.S. politicians and pundits must accept that these decisions are matters of domestic policy for Mexico. As Mexico struggles to carry out these reforms, “advice” emanating from the United States and especially from one of the branches of the U.S. government will be counterproductive. It will be greeted as unwarranted interference in Mexico’s internal affairs and, as such, is apt to undermine rather than promote the proposed policy change.

• The United States can also help Mexico develop its human and capital infrastructure by augmenting current programs to train rural teachers, provide student scholarships, and determine the feasibility of large infrastructure projects. North American competitiveness depends on Mexico’s ability to improve the quantity and quality of its labor force and its transportation and communication network. The largest obstacle to achieving this objective is a shortage of investment capital. Targeted U.S. assistance programs that complement the efforts of private actors and the Mexican government can have an impact that far exceeds their monetary value.

• Mexico must find a way to overcome the political disputes that have obstructed essential economic reforms for nearly a decade. Given the differences of economic policy opinion in the country and the probability that both houses of the Mexican legislature will be divided among several political parties, enacting policy change depends on political compromise. The Mexican president, politicians, and political parties must stop their incessant combat. They must stop insisting on their own ideal version of reform and instead find a common ground where a majority can agree. Neither Mexico nor North America as a whole can afford six more years of fiscal, energy, and labor policy stalemate that translates into a lack of investment in human and capital infrastructure, the continued decapitalization of Pemex, and noncompetitive labor costs.

• Mexico must also stop asking the United States to finance a large-scale regional development fund. The low levels of U.S. public support for international aid programs of any sort make this proposal a political nonstarter in the U.S. Congress even in the best of times. And the current need to cut government spending to reduce the U.S. budget deficit makes this proposal even less viable politically. By continuing to insist on such a development fund, Mexico wastes its limited political capital in the United States while diverting time and attention from smaller, more viable development programs. Further, the primary focus of the financial relationship should be on trade or investment, rather than aid.


• The United States should redouble current efforts to help Mexico build its law enforcement capabilities. The lack of security for foreign investors, especially in the border region, and Mexico’s limited ability to deal with the drug cartels is a direct threat to U.S. interests. To secure its southern border and promote its global economic competitiveness, the United States needs to help Mexico improve its crime-fighting abilities. Within this context, bilateral cooperation between the two countries’ militaries should be continued an

d deepened. The United States should enhance technical and financial assistance to support Mexican efforts to improve the training, pay, and effectiveness of its federal and state police forces, albeit with an understanding of and sensitivity to Mexico’s reluctance to allow U.S. law enforcement personnel to operate on Mexican soil. And the current U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) program promoting judicial reform and training should be substantially expanded.

• Mexico must make the financial and political commitment to respond aggressively to its growing security problems. Although Mexico’s last two presidents have implemented important initiatives to weaken the drug cartels, these initiatives have been insufficient. Meanwhile, virtually no progress has been made in reducing the country’s high incidence of common crime. The way forward depends on improving the quality of Mexican law enforcement and increasing public trust in these institutions. To this end, all levels of the Mexican government must direct more fiscal resources toward the training and pay of police officers and the judiciary, severely punish corruption in law enforcement agencies, and actively promote cooperation among federal and local police forces. Mexico should also launch a national crusade against police and judicial corruption designed to inculcate the tie between corruption and insecurity in public thinking and to enlist the direct support of the citizenry in this struggle.

• If Mexico is serious about improving the security environment within its borders, it also needs to overcome its historic sensitivity to joint operations with U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies. These agencies possess a wealth of experience in dealing with organized crime, in screening and training police recruits, and in criminal investigations which could jump-start Mexican security reforms. Accepting such assistance, including close collaboration at the command level with U.S. personnel in Mexican territory, will be politically difficult in a country that has long harbored suspicions of its northern neighbor. But it is an important element to building a solution to Mexico’s growing security problem.


The outcome of Mexico’s July 2 presidential election will inevitably have major consequences for the United States simply because the winner will face such a significant and broad array of challenges and opportunities. It is worth repeating that although there will almost certainly be bilateral frictions at times, none of the three candidates for the Mexican presidency offer the prospect of a fundamental clash of ideologies or even aspirations with the United States. The tone of the relationship will depend heavily on the manner in which the Bush administration and its eventual successor treat Mexico and its new president. Given the disparities of wealth and power, this relationship is not nearly between equals, nor even allies. Some forbearance and patience is likely to be required of Washington as Fox’s successor takes the bilateral relationship in a new direction. But that departure, whatever its tone and coloration, will also offer an opportunity. It will be a good chance to start fresh and bury the legacy of missed opportunities and bruised feelings of the past few years.

Regardless of its outcome, the Mexican election offers the United States an opening to engage a neighbor that is redefining its political culture, its institutions, and its place in the world. Making the most of that opening will require astute diplomacy in Mexico and careful political footwork in the United States, given the sensitivities on both sides of the border, some of long standing and some of recent vintage. It will also require the nurturing of a positive working relationship between the two nations’ presidents, which, depending on the outcome in Mexico, could require initially unrequited overtures from the American side. All such efforts are well worthwhile for the United States considering what Mexico has to gain or lose in the next six years. Given the inevitable challenges he will face, success for the next president of Mexico—on his own terms—will fundamentally benefit U.S. interests.


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