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.


  1. This is such a well-written and fact-filled piece that it should be required reading – in our schools and in Congress! I am sure that most of what you point out would be “new news” to the folks in both those places. Thank you for setting the record straight about how valuable our relationship with our neighbor to the south is.

  2. Dr. Jim,
    You obviously know the topic of U.S. Mexican relations and managed to present a positive summary of many factors. Many foreign policy clubs in the U.S., of which I was one in Minnesota, point out that Mexico has historically used the U.S. as a safety valve for its failed social and economic situation. That is why Mexico has the highest percentage of its own citizens living outside her own borders. The power and political structures of Mexico fail to provide a social safety net for its citizens, or control the culture of impunidad and corruption. In that sense I see the validty of some of Trump´s views. Many Mexicans feel they must leave. Mexicans themselves have been their own worst enemy as the inequality grows. It would have been better for both countries if they never shared a common border.
    You mentioned the Merida initiative. I heard it puts most of the funds in the hands of a dozen military contractors. Former director of the Food for PEACE Program, Senator George McGovern of S.D., said that humanitarian aide for education, health, nutrition, agriculture and housing would do more for peace and progress than any number of military programs. But at least Haliburton has benefitted mucho.

  3. An interesting take on the situation. But I can’t think of one single opinion by Trump that would improve the situation. And if Mexico stopped its agents from cooperating with their US counterparts, there would be chaos at the border and an increased crime wave in the US. Many of Mexico’s problems would not exist if 35 million Americans weren’t consuming drugs

  4. BRAVO, Jim Horn ! Thank you for an enlightened and informed discourse on the frightening, inflammatory statements of Donald Trump expounding his profound ignorance with “building a wall” as some sort of solution.

  5. Hi, Jim, Thanks for pointing out the activities that are on-going about which we are mostly unaware. Your article is quite well written as well. Thank you.

  6. Dear Jim,
    What a wonderful service you have performed for us here with this informative and well presented article! I know the information is reliable because of your many years living, studying, and teaching in Mexico. Thank you so much.

  7. Great article, Jim!! I’m sure that once Trump is enlightened about the many positives of the relationship between our two countries, his rhetoric will change quite a bit. Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!!

  8. How will he be enlightened if he doesn’t read anything beyond tweets?! Hopefully TX & AZ will put some pressure on him since Mx is their number one export market…CA also but Trump is unlikely to care about the bluest state in the union. Thanks for commenting.

  9. We just came back from a two week trip in Cuernavaca and had a great time there. Especially loved the town of Taxco and the caverns nearby. But on the negative side there is corruption in the Policia Dept., got pulled over for a emission check and the vehicle was not updated. Got fined 3000 pecos on the spot, there is no ticket to pay later. Our vehicle would have been towed and impounded for 24 hrs. plus pay a fine of even more. And about Trumps wall, I must say they have they’re own share of walls and barbed wire fence around their properties too. As far as Mexican people go very humble and easy to approach.

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