WHAT TRUMP NEEDS TO LEARN ABOUT MEXICO
Seldom has any U.S. election been characterized by so much badmouthing of a friend, ally, and economic partner like Donald Trump’s bashing of Mexico. Our southern neighbors are aghast at the deplorable electoral bombast besmirching their migrants as rapists and criminals and calling for deportations, border walls, revocation of trade pacts, and other threats so inimical that the peso has fluctuated with Trump’s standing in the polls.
It’s likely that most Americans are unaware of the enormous network of collaboration between over one hundred U.S. and Mexican agencies that promote security, protect consumers, combat crime, and help grow both economies. Any extreme measures against Mexico would likely threaten that network, provoke retaliation, and imperil policies and accords that are critical to U.S. interests.
Potentially the worst catastrophe would be a cross-border trade war. Mexico is the second most important export market for the U.S. with hundreds of billions of dollars in trade and investment, supporting six million jobs in the north. Over 55 thousand U.S. companies post sales in Mexico and another 18 thousand operate in Mexico. In 2015, Mexico was the number one destination for exports from California, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico and the second or third most important for 30 of the 50 states. Mexico is even more dependent on the U.S. market that absorbs close to 80 percent of its exports.
The repercussions of disrupting this monumental trade would create economic turmoil with millions of job losses on both sides of the border. Massive unemployment could push thousands of poor Mexicans to seek relief in migration. Immigration authorities claim that since 2015 border apprehensions of Mexicans are at historic lows and more Mexicans have been returning home than arriving. Much of the return flow is due to improvements in Mexican prosperity. Investments in Mexican economic development are the single best policy to reduce out-migration. Trade disruptions would have the opposite effect.
Declining Mexican migration is offset by a half-million Central American migrants yearly, crossing into Mexico from Guatemala, boarding north-bound trains, or paying coyotes to traffic them into the U.S. When that migration reached crisis proportions in 2015, the Mexican government acted helpfully to stem the flow, sending several hundred more migration agents to its southern border and increasing interdictions significantly. Any Mexican relaxation of controls on its southern frontier would exacerbate Central American pressure on the U.S. border
Mexico tolerates the presence of astonishing numbers of U.S. personnel within its territory. They cooperate with their Mexican counterparts on law enforcement, money laundering, weapons interdiction, counter-terrorism, intellectual property rights, and control and prevention of illnesses. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) manages scores of special agents operating out of offices in a dozen Mexican cities. U.S. intelligence provides communications interceptions and investigations (not welcomed by many Mexican nationalists) to identify fugitives from justice or criminals wanted in U.S. courts. American law enforcement operations would be impossible without the support of the Mexican judiciary, police, and military that provide the search warrants, lead the operations, carry out the arrests, and process the several hundred extraditions of the last decade. Additionally, the largest bilateral collaboration against criminals anywhere in the world is the 2008 Merida Initiative designed to interdict narcotics production and trafficking and improve the Mexican judicial system
Although there are no known terrorist groups operating in Mexico, Homeland Security and the Pentagon keep a watchful eye on potential threats. Dozens of agencies of both countries coordinate supervision of bilateral security concerns to a degree unparalleled in diplomatic practice. How would it serve U.S. security to have Mexican officials angry, resentful, and uncooperative?
U.S. consumers also benefit from operations of the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) promoting compliance on both sides of the border with regulations to protect against pathogens that might spread from massive food-related commerce. The Mexican government certifies labs for testing and inspection of products and it permits the FDA to operate mobile labs in critical export areas inside its borders. Other agencies cooperate in controlling the spread of exotic pests and preventing the spread of illnesses like influenza that have no borders.
The degree of cooperation between these two allies is unprecedented in diplomatic relations. While the mechanisms of this extraordinary partnership have been largely institutionalized, the fabric of such solidarity could unravel precipitately with an antagonistic administration in either country.
When the current commotion subsides, as it is likely to, it would behoove us to remember, if you would have a good neighbor you have to be one.