April 28, 2008

April 28, 2008 | WebMemo on Immigration

The United States and Mexico: Helping One Another, HelpingOurselves

The United States and Mexico share almost 2,000 miles of border and many of the same problems, including immigration challenges, inadequate border security, and drug smuggling. The two nations do not adequately collaborate to address these issues, despite common goals: defeating the drug cartels, bringing economic development to Mexico, and finding sensible and compassionate solutions to America's immigration crisis and broken border. The U.S. administration can help Mexico help us-and itself-by implementing a complement of economic, security, and investments measures.

Separating Facts from Fiction            

Contrary to the assumptions of some, Mexico supports American efforts to secure the border and create sensible and legal avenues for immigration. Better border security will help quell the plague of lawlessness that threatens both countries. Illegal immigration hurts Mexico by trapping many of their most productive citizens on the U.S. side of the border-rather than returning to invest and prosper in their own country. Legal, market-based avenues for immigration would create disincentives for illegal immigrants. This would be a vast improvement over the status quo-for both countries.

Help Wanted        

Congress and the Administration must work together to accomplish the following:

  • Ensure the Department of Homeland Security finishes the job of gaining operational control of the U.S.-Mexican border sooner rather than later.
  • Enforce current immigration laws.
  • Establish realistic quotas and responsible visa worker programs that address market needs, security imperatives, and public health concerns. This can be accomplished through reforming and expanding current visa programs, or by creating new pilot programs.
  • Encourage adequate, public-private investment in border infrastructure. The United States has underinvested in the most important components of the system, such as infrastructure (e.g., adequate bridges and roads) at the points of entry. More investment in road net­works that connect to rail terminals, seaports, and airports is essential to providing the capacity, redundancy, and flexibility required for the free flow of trade and travel. This is particularly vital at the small number of transit nodes that handle most of the cross-border traffic.
  • Work with federal and state law enforcement agencies to coordinate efforts to stop the illicit sale and shipments of weapons and bulk cash that fuel Mexico's cartel-driven drug violence.  

Time to Act

Mexico benefits when America acts. By securing the border, both countries can focus on the serious problem of drug trafficking and its deepening cycle of violence and criminality. Border agents require infrastructure at the border to successfully carry out that mission-and the less time they spend looking for illegal immigrants, the more time they can fight violent crime.

What Mexico Can Do

Economic reform is key to resolving the immigration issue. By creating new, private-sector jobs in Mexico, the "supply push" that drives illegal immigration to the United States can be reduced. Mexican President Felipe Calderon must make the Mexican economy more competitive by challenging its private sector monopolies and duopolies.

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Assistant Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Senior Research Fellow in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, and Diem Nguyen is a Research Assistant in the Allison Center, at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

Diem Nguyen Salmon Senior Policy Analyst for Defense Budgeting
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy