Open Borders: Collaboration Between Mexico and the U.S.

Israel Hernández Seguin, Mexican Council on Foreign Relations

Israel Hernández Seguin, Mexican Council on Foreign Relations

Israel Hernández Seguin is Deputy Director of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations (COMEXI). He also chairs the Council’s Youth Program and founded Internacionalistas, a magazine on global trends. He has been a commentator and invited columnist for Excelsior newspaper and Enfoque radio in Mexico, Global Politics magazine in the United Kingdom, and NTN24 in the United States.

The United States and Mexico are closely connected geographically and economically. In what ways—if any—will the change in administration in Mexico and the re-election of President Obama influence the US-Mexico diplomatic relationship?

The tie with the United States is the most important diplomatic relationship that Mexico has. Likewise, Mexico is one of the strongest trading partners of the United States. Unfortunately, issues such as illegal immigration, counternarcotic plans, border security (after 9/11), and the war on drugs have clouded other matters of equal importance, such as economic issues, for more than two decades.

The change in administration in both countries offers a new opportunity to refocus the priorities of the bilateral relationship. But it is Mexico that needs to take the lead at reframing the agenda, as the United States will always remain concentrated on issues of pressing domestic interest. Fortunately, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has stated his administration’s interest in strengthening the economic relationship between both countries.

Many experts have recommended building a regional economic agenda for North American competitiveness. This requires strong political communication and strategic thinking about all the opportunities and potentials that lie ahead. It is challenging to maneuver a regional agenda for competitiveness, however, when the United States seems more focused currently on building its economic relationship with Asia, as seen by the recent emphasis in the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Citizens in both Mexico and the United States are concerned about the rising levels of drug-related violence near the border. Do you believe the binational strategies adopted by both countries will successfully reduce drug-related violence? What more can be done by the incoming administration to address this mutual challenge?

There has been increasing debate about the failure of traditional strategies in combating drugs trafficking. Consumption of drugs in the United States has not diminished and, in Mexico, both consumption and violence have increased. In my opinion, it is not possible to know for sure whether the strategies have failed because they were based on faulty assumptions and rationales or because of structural problems. It seems that Mexican President Peña Nieto will focus on a less aggressive security approach. In the United States, the recent legalization of marijuana in some states could alter the debate.

There are extensive studies suggesting that more effective policies for demand reduction have to do less with traditional military strategies and more with drug prevention and drug rehabilitation. Moreover, effective measures to attack drugs trafficking require the elimination of the ‘root causes’ of organized crime. That is, Mexico and the United States need to substantially reinforce collaboration in areas such as institutional cooperation, corruption, and investment in both rural areas—where drugs are grown—and urban developments. It is unfortunate that we don’t see many policies concentrating on these issues.

In June 2012, President Obama used his executive power to stop the deportation of young illegal immigrants, as long as they fulfilled certain requirements. Do you think this policy change is a step in the right direction? What else can or should Mexican and/or US authorities do to reduce illegal immigration into the United States?

President Obama’s executive order to halt the deportation of young illegal immigrants was a short-term plan, and will have few implications and little impact in the medium- or long-run. It was neither a step forward nor a step backwards in regards to the issue of illegal immigration; just a temporary halt to the problem. Unfortunately, although not optimal, these half-measure policies and programs might be all that is available in the foreseeable future, as ongoing confrontations between Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress jeopardize the potential for a comprehensive immigration reform.

As for the reduction of illegal immigration, a recent study by the Migration Policy Institute shows that the robust immigration enforcement machinery in the United States has become an important element for deterring illegal immigration. Nevertheless, I think that the only sustainable path towards deterring the flow in illegal immigrants into the United States relies on the improvement of quality of life in Mexico and in Central America.

What other bilateral issues should the incoming administrations prioritize? How should Presidents Peña Nieto and Obama incorporate these issues into their respective foreign policy strategies?

I sympathize with those in the United States that support Mexico’s ongoing judicial reform, training police officers at the border, and the modernization of the US-Mexico border. Back in 2006, I carried out the first study ever done examining the causes behind the North American Development Bank’s (NADBANK) failure to boost bilateral cooperation on infrastructure development. I was glad to see that, in 2011, a bill was introduced in the US Congress promoting projects financed by NADBANK. Unfortunately, the bill has not yet been enacted and the potential benefits of greater trade between both countries are being hampered by a lack of investment in infrastructure development. For example, we are using ports of entry that were built more than 40 years ago to transport goods across the border.

I think that there is plenty of work to be done in improving infrastructure, competitiveness, and communication between both countries. What we need is strong leadership to push all of these issues onto the agenda. And, as I said, such an initiative has to come from Mexico.

Feature Photo: cc/geezaweezer

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Jonathan Grabinsky
Jonathan Grabinsky is a staff writer for The Review and is an MPP student at the Harris School of Public Policy. He is interested in social policy, international affairs, and urban affairs.

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