U.S. and Mexican political and economic leaders met in El Paso for the 2018 U.S.-Mexico Border Summit hosted by the Borderplex Alliance, which includes Las Cruces, El Paso, and Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez.
The summit featured former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo as its keynote speaker and included talks from understanding North America as a single market to border infrastructure to the future of U.S.-Mexican relations.
Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in November’s midterm elections, said there’s no relationship more important to the United States, and to Texas economically, than with Mexico.
“There are a million jobs in this state that depend on the U.S.-Mexico relationship. Culturally, historically, economically and who our families are in this binational community. Mexico is not just a part of our past, it’s not just who we are today. We have a shared future together and the sooner we start acting that way as a country, the better that future will be,” O’Rourke said. “So, we actually have a great set of conditions today. We just need to be mindful of that and ensure that they are good going forward.”
According to the federal Trade Representative’s Office, U.S. goods and services trade with Mexico totaled $616.6 billion in 2017, making Mexico the United States’ third largest trading partner. But that major trade partnership has not led to stronger diplomatic ties under the Trump administration.
Since taking office, President Trump has literally and figuratively worked to build walls instead of bridges with Mexico. Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy that separated more than 2,000 children from their parents is a situation O’Rourke said the Trump administration needs to do more to rectify.
“The Trump administration and one person in particular, Donald J. Trump, has inflicted unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity to our fellow humans and so there is far more for them to do. There’s far more for each one of us to do to ensure that that administration, our elected representatives feel the pressure of the people of this country to make sure that we do the right thing. Not just for those asylum seekers and those families but for this country, for our values, for who we are. I for one want to make sure that we do that,” O’Rourke said.
Mayors from the Borderplex region spoke about their experiences governing in the world’s largest binational community. El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said the biggest strength of the Borderplex is that it’s one bilingual, bicultural region where strong trade is critical.
“We’re the 10th largest exporter to Mexico through our port here. And we have 50 thousand jobs here in El Paso tied to the maquila manufacturing operations in Juarez and the ratios are for every four jobs in Juarez, there’s one job in El Paso. So, if it can continue to be expanded and grow it benefits us. It’s the entire region,” Margo said.
What doesn’t benefit the region according to Margo are President Trump’s calls for a border wall.
“We have a fence here. We have a fence. It works. It was designed originally for criminal elements and those things, car thieves, things like that. It works fine. It was done during the Bush administration,” Margo said. “To say the wall and add that rhetoric to it and the emotion, to me it conjures up the Berlin wall. We’re not a Berlin wall. We need to protect our borders. We’re a sovereign nation, Mexico is a sovereign nation. We need to work through that but this whole concept of a wall is misplaced rhetoric and it’s too harsh and it serves no useful positive purpose in my mind.”
As renegotiations to the North American Free Trade Agreement continue, former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico James Jones said NAFTA has been positive for the country’s growth.
“We’ve added new jobs, we’ve increased our domestic economy," Jones said. "We have established relationships on a personal basis with Mexicans and Canadians that we didn’t have before so all of these things wrapped into one means we’re a better country for it and we have better neighbors for it."
Jones said he thinks leaders in Washington D.C. should join the Borderplex in recognizing the value of trade to the region and avoid policies that negatively impact economic output.
“I think both with the Congress and with the White House, I think the President is operating in a way that does not take into account the business and the economic consequences of his actions and unless business lets him know that, he’s going to continue to act in an erratic, in an erratic way that hurts our country,” Jones said.
It’s a reminder that President Trump and others may continue to renegotiate trade deals while also reducing immigration.