As Arizona struggles with a massive budget deficit, it has been able to muster the resources needed to sue the federal government for not securing the border. Arizona wants the federal government to install miles of fence and other barriers. It is also irked because Washington is not reimbursing the state for the costs of incarcerating illegal border crossers. Some of the state’s leaders hope to push matters all the way to the Supreme Court. Although nearly financially insolvent, Arizona has collected $3.7 million for the legal fight.
Arizona is represented in Congress by two senators and eight members of the House of Representatives. Because border issues need federal attention, the state legislature would be more cost effective if it spent its time encouraging the congressional delegation to develop a coherent federal policy. While plowing new legal ground at the state level makes headlines, it doesn’t do much to solve what is an international affairs problem.
The legislature should consider viewing Mexico as a national foreign policy issue instead of an aggravation to Arizona. From Brownsville on the Texas Gulf Coast to San Diego on the Pacific, Mexico shares a nearly 2,000 mile long border with the United States. Being part of the North American land mass, it is not going to go away, the two countries will remain physically connected.
The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) linked the economies of Canada, the United States and Mexico. While the Canada-United States part of relationship is working well, Mexico’s policy makers tended to ignore the rural disruption NAFTA implementation would bring with it. The government instituted very few programs to offset the agreement’s impact.
As a result, approximately two million marginal farm jobs in Mexico disappeared. Many of the small farmers pushed out of business could not find work in manufacturing or in the other sectors because Mexican government policies did not foster the creation of the needed jobs.
Mexico’s lackluster long-term economic performance is the basis for many of the problems. Its close ties to the U.S. have in some ways aggravated the situation. These ties are important, however, because the U.S. takes about 80% of Mexico’s exports while providing nearly half of its imports. In 2010, the value of the merchandise trade moving between the two countries amounted to $392 billion. One sign of an improving economy is that Arizona’s exporters shipped $5 billion in merchandise exports to Mexico in 2010, up from $4.5 billion in 2009.
In the overall global competitiveness rankings, the U.S. places 3rd, Canada is 7th while Mexico doesn’t make the list of the top 40. In the global business environment ratings, Canada ranks 4th, U.S. is 13th and Mexico comes in at 35th. In expenditures for research and development, the U.S. ranks 1st in the world, Canada is 8th, Mexico is 25th.
One statistical area in which Mexico leads its NAFTA partners is in workers’ remittances. It ranks the 3rd in the world, after India and China. Mexican nationals working outside of the country (mostly in the U.S.) are sending home over $20 billion per year. The remittances do much to keep entire sections of the country afloat financially. These remittances should be considered by our lawmakers to be a very effective and cheap form of foreign aid.
The demand for illegal drugs in the U.S. has made Mexico’s problems worse. The ongoing drug wars have virtually shut down the city of Ciudad Juarez across the border from El Paso, causing 70% of the city’s stores to close. While the proposed militarization of the border will slow down drug trafficking, the U.S. needs to do more to dampen down the ravenous demand for illegal products inside its borders.
When President Reagan’s administration ran the program that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, he didn’t have a bunch of states dancing around in the background insisting that they had the right to run their own foreign affairs. The White House and Congress have allowed the problems with Mexico to slide for too long. Part of the solution will entail getting the Mexican government to implement policies that will promote enough economic growth so that its citizens will not be forced to search for work outside the country. The sooner the Arizona legislature faces this unpopular fact, the sooner it can become part of the solution.