American Crossroads

Neighbors to the South

By Gladys McCormick

Our relationship with Mexico and Latin America is about a lot more than protecting our border.

Special Series: American Crossroads
Eight faculty experts bring context and historical perspective to this year’s election.

When Americans think about our southern neighbors, it almost always leads to immigration, a hot-button issue for the 2020 election. Most opinions are separated by party lines. President Trump has made his views on immigration clear, his border wall a priority since his bid for election in 2016. In the primaries, Democratic candidates expressed intent to roll back restrictive immigration policies, though some discussed the need to rethink approaches to immigration entirely.

But the issue is complicated by our deep economic connectedness with Mexico, which has eclipsed China as our largest trade partner. Our economies are profoundly integrated. Any interruption in trade would be catastrophic to the Mexican economy. That’s a big reason Mexico has allowed some 60,000 asylum seekers from Central America to "remain in Mexico" while they await asylum (though current U.S. policies make asylum unlikely). Mexico has no more infrastructure than the U.S. to deal with this influx, but Mexico seeks to mollify the Trump administration.

In truth, interrupting trade wouldn’t be good for the United States either. If Trump made good on such a threat, the U.S. auto industry would collapse within 36 hours, our industries are so interlinked.

At present, it’s not clear Republicans are apt to greatly revise their approach; Trump continues to promise his wall. His opponent, now seemingly certain to be Joe Biden, will need to offer a salient alternative. He will have to outline plans to deal with citizenship for the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, including those brought to the U.S. as children; the fate of those detained on either side of the border; and policies and visas for international visitors and guest workers.

As voters sort through these debates, I’d only encourage them to remember: It’s not only about refugees at the border or undocumented immigrants living inside the U.S. It’s about two countries whose fates are closely intertwined.

Gladys McCormickGladys McCormick, the Jay and Debe Moskowitz Endowed Chair in Mexico-U.S. Relations, is an historian whose scholarship draws connections to contemporary issues like the drug trade, economic inequality, and political violence—especially, Mexico’s use of repressive tactics to combat drug trafficking. She is a popular media commentator on Mexican emigration to the U.S.

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