What Trump gets wrong about Mexico

Andres Martinez –
Mexico has long been a good neighbour to the United States, and in more recent years a good ally — which is why it’s more than a little absurd that a false narrative about our relationship with Mexico contributed to shutting down the federal government last month, and threatened to do so again this week.
The two crucial unresolved issues in the partisan brinksmanship of the moment — quarrels over whether to provide permanent relief to the “Dreamer” young immigrants covered by DACA, and whether to fund the building of a border wall — reflect an underlying anxiety about trends in Mexico and along the border.
So too, for that matter, does the ongoing renegotiation of the NAFTA trade agreement.
President Donald Trump is not known for the constancy or coherence of his positions, but sadly, when it comes to Mexico, he has been remarkably clear and consistent in the story he tells about our almost 2,000-mile southern border — and our neighbour on the other side of it.
It’s an inaccurate story, but he has clung to it since the day he announced his candidacy back in the summer of 2015, thereby legitimizing it to a large segment of the electorate.
It’s a story of a desperately poor neighbour taking advantage of Americans by luring their jobs away, and dumping millions of its people across a chaotic border that Washington has refused to police for decades, until now.
Political leaders typically minimize, or rationalize, policy mistakes and resulting problems, but Mexico is a curious case of the exact opposite — a largely positive story, and arguably a major US policy win, portrayed inaccurately as a disaster.
The United States first pressed Mexico to become bound to North America by a free trade agreement during the Reagan administration.
US motives always transcended the purely commercial: NAFTA would strengthen the rule of law in Mexico, advance that country’s democratization, and provide the United States with a more stable partner on its southern flank.
NAFTA has exceeded expectations on all those fronts, especially in democratizing Mexico and setting it on a more stable path of growth, and not at the expense of the US economy.
Bilateral trade between the two countries increased more than six-fold since NAFTA went into effect in 1994, and the growing middle class in Mexico has become a massive consumer of American products, buying more from the United States than any country besides Canada.
Mexico imports more from the United States than China and the United Kingdom put together.
Mexico has changed dramatically in the two decades since NAFTA went into effect, largely in accordance with Washington’s proposed vision.
Both Mexico’s conservative National Action Party (PAN) and once hyper-nationalist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) administrations abandoned the country’s traditional anti-American outlook and rhetoric, and compromised former sovereignty concerns to collaborate closely with Washington on everything from national security to energy policy.
When I travel in other parts of the world, where borders are truly fraught with tension, people express a wistful jealousy for the cross-border harmony the United States has enjoyed with both Canada and Mexico.
Mexicans and Canadians don’t harbour zealous anti-US designs.
When they do cross our border, it’s out of admiration and a desire to advance themselves while contributing to the American economy and society.
The southern border, contrary to what Trump and many of his supporters appear to believe, is hardly an out-of-control security threat to the United States.
Billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent in the past two decades hardening security; unauthorized crossings and the number of undocumented immigrants from Mexico are declining.
Studies estimate there has been a net emigration back to Mexico in recent years, and demographic trends in that country add to worries of potential labour shortages in our economy over the long run.
 — Reuters