Is it time to move the US-Mexico border?

A Cold War is brewing with China. The pandemic has laid bare the soft, exposed underbelly of globalization. Once touted as a rising tide, lifting all ships, globalization is now exposed for what it is, an over-dependence on events time-zones distant. How can the US rebound with sharper focus on regional alliances? A good place to start can be a pan-Western Hemisphere pivot, south toward our relationship and border with Mexico.

In this world of shifting alliances and loyalties, the US-Mexico border should be understood and probed with renewed determination. This line of sand and river embodies the inevitable reckoning of our natural bonds. A border “fix” could dramatically reduce America’s tenuous overseas dependencies and put Mexico on a development path toward solving grinding poverty across its southernmost states, the focus of President Lopez Obrador’s administration. 

Both nations want the same things: peace, security, and international trade. Fixing America’s border quagmire with Mexico could become the economic engine and social justice solution driving our binational, mid-21st century connectiveness. Especially at a time when China-American relations are imploding, the border separating Mexico and US needs a new future. In this spirit, it is time to move the US-Mexico border.

The US and Mexico DO need a border, just not the one currently delineated. Could the border be moved? Let’s suppose for the moment it could actually happen. Let us agree that neither nation would accept a true “open border” scenario. Borders exist for good reasons, but this border is not working. 

By most measures of binational cooperation, the current border is broken. Environmental violations, crime, smuggling, and migration crisis make it impossible to expect the current US-Mexico megacity clusters to remain viable. The existing international border treaty (re-negotiated in 1970, modifying the 1840-50’s treaties) reaffirms international borders can be moved by the will of governments. 

The beauty of a newly drawn border lies in its isolation, completely detached from any developed towns or settlements. The new border would be entirely unpopulated and in the middle of barren desert, but for humanitarian aid stations and certain immigration functions. There would be no repeat of the 1850’s attempt to the establish towns across the new border, when Mexicans were given free land in exchange for returning and repopulating the area. The new border stays unpopulated, possibly for decades or until both nations agree it is the right time, under strict development rules.

Most of Mexico’s border culture and society already peers northward to US trends, commerce, news, sports and values. Support for some form of MEXit is fathomable for many. In March 2020 remittances from Mexican workers in the States set the all-time largest inbound transfer. These billions of US cash are the main lifeline for an estimated 10 million Mexicans; our economies are already mutually supporting one another. 

Border policing becomes greatly simplified (and more secure), with a silver lining of treating migration as a basic human right. We could equip this new border (built by a binational Conservation Core-type plan) with health and repatriation “stations” that would ATTRACT migrants (and reduce deadly migration routes) to understand their individual options and receive basic human needs assistance –but not a free pass into the US.

Mexico gets lower enforcement costs for border and immigration services obligated by the US government; crime rates fall across Mexico, as syndicates lose transit routes and border allies. All border-based businesses (export-oriented, including Maquiladoras) retain their favorable export tax status, albeit with labor law alterations. There would of course be monetary compensations for lost real estate, and an offer of dual citizenship. Mexico’s surging population is dramatically reduced as are associated externalities (e.g. border-related security, policing, migrant housing, social services and administrating vast public entities to care for migrants). 

Mexico would obtain an unencumbered, better managed, humanitarian-focused northern border, equally managed by Mexican and US stakeholders across social, environmental, and economic spheres.

The US gets new taxpayers and a renewed charge into manufacturing and industry. A secure alliance between Mexico and the US is achieved, dissuades other players. (e.g., China) from toying with the unprotected US southern flank. New consumers with values in-line with the US economy and society are offered a path to citizenship and dual nationality. Most importantly, as the US population ages, it gains a young and talented workforce, consolidated and ready to expand its labor and language skills at a time when the post-Boomer US population will face demographic pressures.

Of course, not all Mexicans would accept being melding into US society; repatriation options with compensation would have to be considered. Fears that a tsunami of Mexicans demanding US citizenship would leave both nations weaker, a Gallop poll shows less than 5% of Mexicans would prefer to live in the US, if given the opportunity.  

With a more southerly drawn border would come a mountain of socioeconomic and environmental challenges, some insurmountable. But a “unencumbered” border would be a body blow to entrenched illicit industries in both nations, reduce crime (as the new border will be totally uninhabited), and force this porous line to become something it’s never been: a demarcation for changing our geo-political priorities toward humanitarian realities. 

In a vacuum, such a unilateral move-the-border decree would seem utter fantasy. However, with the stroke of a pen, the 21st century could take a bold first step toward economic integration and social justice across the longest international border on the planet. 

Can we humanely turn the new “la linea” from a human debacle into a fused urban zone of growth and opportunity? Of course, there will be winners and the less fortunate, and many (most) rejecting the entire concept as unworkable. However, doing nothing is not an option. International borders are at best temporary lines in the sand; at their worst, a bungled bundling of societies and disparate cultures and languages that over time need to be reexamined. 

If the US has any kind of hemispheric destiny — that of owning a responsible posture toward Latin America and the Caribbean, then there is one decree (move the border) that must not be rejected out of hand. Without a better border, the Western Hemisphere is the big loser.

Greg Custer resides in Ajijic, Jalisco and has worked in the Mexico tourism industry for over 35 years. He writes about retirement living across Mexico at his site

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