Relations between Mexico and the United States are often reduced to just two issues: border security and unauthorized immigration. Lawmakers and commentators who call for the construction of a fence along all 2,000 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, for instance, tend to portray Mexico as if it were a hostile nation with which we are at war; a source of law-breaking migrants, dangerous smugglers, illegal drugs, and little else. However, the reality of the U.S.-Mexico relationship is far more complex than this caricature suggests. As President Obama remarked during his trip to Mexico on May 3:
“…between our two countries, we’re some 430 million people…tens of millions of Mexican Americans enrich our national life in the United States. Well over 1 million Americans live here in Mexico. Every year, millions of tourists—most of them from the United States—visit this magnificent country. Every day, millions of workers in our countries earn a living from the jobs that are made possible by our trade, and more than 1 million people cross our shared border—businesspeople, students, educators, scientists, researchers, collaborating in every sphere of human endeavor.”
A few statistics from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative further flesh out the depth and breadth of the U.S.-Mexico relationship. Bilateral trade between the two countries totaled roughly half-a-trillion dollars in 2011: $224 billion in exports to Mexico, and $277 billion in imports from Mexico. U.S. foreign direct investment in Mexico amounted to $91.4 billion, while Mexican direct investment in the United States was $13.8 billion. As a 2012 report from the Wilson Institute succinctly states:
“Commerce between the United States and Mexico is one of the great yet highly underappreciated success stories of the global economy. The United States is Mexico’s top trading partner, and Mexico—which has made enormous strides in its macroeconomic picture in the last two decades—is the U.S.’ third-ranked partner in terms of total trade.”
These facts suggest two countries with a shared destiny; not two adversaries.
Given the vast and symbiotic nature of the relationship between Mexico and the United States, will a U.S. security strategy that relies primarily on border fortifications and tens of thousands of “boots on the ground” actually work?
Or will it succeed primarily in undermining legitimate trade, tourism, and travel to the detriment of the U.S. economy?
What role can or should immigration reform play in the border-security equation?