Tag Archive | "NAFTA"

NAFTA’s failure could create an immigration crisis in the United States

Source: Farm Futures

Source: Farm Futures

Although the controversy surrounding the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) typically revolves around jobs and trade, NAFTA impacts more than just trade relations; it also has a major influence on immigration patterns in the United States. President Trump threatened to include immigration control as part of NAFTA re-negotiations when he recently tweeted “[t]hey must stop the big drug and people flows, or I will stop their cash cow, NAFTA.”[1] Although Trump’s statements on NAFTA and immigration are making headlines, relying on Mexico to help curb immigration flow is nothing new. Mexico has been assisting the United States’ for decades and assistance only increased after NAFTA entered into force in 1994. In the past, the U.S. often seemed to have the upper hand in its immigration agreements with Mexico, however, with the recent developments over NAFTA, this may be changing.

Though its effectiveness is hotly debated, NAFTA did improve the economies of the United States, Canada, and Mexico; Mexico’s economy was particularly boosted.[2] From this arose a relationship of mutual reliance on the part of both Mexico and the United States. Mexico’s economic reliance on the United States put it in a position where it is often expected to alter its immigration laws and border policies at the request of the United States. In turn, as the United States has continued to ask for Mexico’s cooperation; it has become increasingly reliant on Mexico to assist in reducing the number of migrants coming to the United States’ southern border. In particular, the recent mass migration of Central American migrants exemplifies how the United States’ role as the dominant economic power in the region impacts Mexico’s immigration laws and policies.

Past Mexico – United States relations

The passage of NAFTA liberalized Mexico’s trade with the United States and Canada, and provided a significant boost to its economy.[3] In addition to opening its borders to trade, Mexico began cooperating with the United States more on border security.[4] For example, in 1997, in exchange for economic aid, Mexico worked with the United States to warn migrants of the dangers of smuggling and border crossing in Operation Gatekeeper III.[5] In 2007, another joint operation, La Merída, focused efforts on drug trafficking rather than on human smuggling.[6]

In 2014, the number of unaccompanied minors and families arriving at the United States’ southern border surged, the majority of whom were from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.[7] Fleeing extreme poverty or gang violence, the number of unaccompanied minors increased by 77% with 38,759 arrivals in 2013 compared to 68,541 in 2014.[8] For families, the number surged 361%, with 14,855 apprehended in 2013 to 68,445 in 2014.[9] For the most part, those arriving were fleeing from extreme poverty or gang violence.[10] President Barack Obama described the event as a humanitarian crisis.[11]

In response to this crisis, President Obama negotiated a deal with the Mexican government to help strengthen its border in an attempt to prevent migrants from reaching the United States. The result was the implementation of Programa Fontera Sur (Southern Border Program), which is in part financed by the United States.[12] Prior to the program’s implementation, security was uneven along Mexico’s southern border.[13] Along some parts of the border there was a high tolerance for those crossing into Mexico, both temporary visitors, but also for those passing through on their way to the United States; other sections, however, were significantly more secure.[14] With the implementation of Programa Frontera Sur, Mexico’s southern border security radically changed. Mexico became an immigration “enforcer” for the United States, stepping up detentions and deportations significantly.[15] For example, Mexico increased its deportation of migrants by 35% from 2013 to 2014.[16] This included 18,169 children in 2014, a 117% increase from the number of children deported in 2013.[17] Meanwhile, the number of apprehensions and deportations at the United States’ border substantially decreased.[18]

The program is unpopular in Mexico and has been condemned internationally. Mexican scholar and activist Sergio Aguayo, told NPR that “We are now the servants of the U.S. in this role.”[19] Mexico’s significant increase in deportations is also criticized as being hypocritical.[20] Further, the program has also been criticized for human rights abuses, as well as the criminalization of migrants.[21]

Outsourcing border control is not uncommon and developed countries are increasingly relying on less developed, transit states for border control.[22] However, the relationship between the United States and Mexico is distrustful, and should not be equated to similar a structure within the European Union, which has moved beyond using merely economic interests.[23]

Power dynamics and the liberal paradox

But why is Mexico helping the United States given the controversy and criticism? The answer is multifaceted. First, the United States has been the dominant power in the region, if not the world, for years.[24] As such, it typically enjoys a fairly high level of power over other states, as is the case with Mexico. Part of the United States’ strength is its stability, predictability, and involvement in multilateral agreements.[25] The United States’ stability and reliability as the dominant power, combined with the economic growth that Mexico enjoyed under NAFTA meant that it was in Mexico’s best interest to the United States “dirty work.”[26]

Further, Mexico’s economic reliance on its more powerful neighbor makes Mexico more likely to cooperate, even when it is not in full agreement. Of particular importance is the improvement in Mexico’s economy due to NAFTA as well as Mexico’s heavy reliance on remittances. Nearly 12 million Mexican immigrants were living in the United States in 2014.[27] That year, remittances from the United States brought in 24 billion USD, 2% percent of Mexico’s GDP.[28] James Hollifield points out that developing states are reluctant to “provoke a conflict with a receiving state . . . for fear of losing remittances.”[29] Not cooperating with the United States could risk not only Mexico’s economic ties with the United States, but also the ability of Mexico’s citizens to stay in the United States and send back remittances.

This economic reliance requires that Mexico cooperate due to the existence of a “liberal paradox” within the United States.  Hollifield describes the liberal paradox: “the economic logic of liberalism is one of openness, but the political and legal logic is one of closure.”[30] In part, this is because migration poses a risk to a state’s sovereignty.[31] Thus, a migration state, caught in this liberal paradox, is one that opens or closes its borders for the benefit of the state, rather than to benefit the migrant.[32]

This fear over loss of sovereignty was readily apparent during the 2014 migrant crisis, and continues to exist today. The rhetoric since 2014 has been largely anti-immigrant with fears that migrants will accompany job loss or an increase in crime.[33] Therefore, when the number of migrants arriving overwhelmed the United States border, the US looked to Mexico and Mexico was in little position to object.

United States – Mexico Relations Today

The ability of the United States to rely on Mexico for its border security needs may be changing. The election of President Trump has called into question the predictability of the United States. As President Trump has implied on multiple occasions, Mexico can no longer definitively rely on the United States to uphold NAFTA.[34] Additionally, the new administration, rather than offering economic aid to Mexico for southern border security, has called for Mexico to pay for a wall to be built along the United States – Mexico border.[35] Unsurprisingly, Mexico objected to this.[36] The United States has also increased the deportation of immigrants living in the interior of the country, which will likely affect the amount of remittances sent back to Mexico.[37]

This is a sign that the United States may be losing influence and control over the region. Although President Trump has threatened to make NAFTA contingent on Mexico’s immigration enforcement,[38] the United States likely needs NAFTA to remain dominant. Without the stability, predictability, and participation in multilateral agreements such as NAFTA, its less likely the United States can insist that Mexico continue to protect its southern border for the United States. Without the assurance of an economic benefit, Mexico is rethinking its interest in continuing to cooperate with the United States on border security and has begun using migration as a tool.[39] As Mexico’s economic minister stated, without NAFTA “[t]here would be no incentive to continue collaborating on important issues for North American security such as migration issues.”[40]

For now, NAFTA and Mexico’s border security program remain in place. NAFTA may be re-negotiated, which would give the United States the chance to once again solidify its place as the region. However, the continual shifts in the United States’ support for NATO, NAFTA, and the Worth Trade Organization, as well as the generally decreasing stability and predictability of the current administration, demonstrates that the United States can no longer be counted on as the dominant power. One part of ensuring stability is the ability to properly regulate migration.[41] That is, the United States’ stability relies in part on its ability to regulate migration. For Mexico, that means that a somewhat unstable United States is in greater need of regulating migration, which is clear based on President Trump’s call to include immigration in NAFTA. This gives Mexico an opportunity to impact United States’ policy through the creation of a migration state, where it opens or closes its borders based on the how Mexico will benefit from a decrease in power of the United States.

Alison Sheets is a Staff Editor with the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy, and a 1L at the Sturm College of Law.


[1] Trump Says May Tie Mexican Immigration Control to NAFTA, Reuters (last visited April 23, 2018), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-trade-nafta-trump/trump-says-may-tie-mexican-immigration-control-to-nafta-idUSKBN1HU1ZE.

[2] Lorenzo Caliendo and Fernando Parro, Estimates of the Trade and Welfare Effects of NAFTA, 1 The Review of Economic Studies 3 (2015).

[3] Id.

[4] Ann Kimball, The Transit State: A Comparative Analysis of Mexican and Moroccan Immigration Policies 12 (Univ. of San Diego Ctr. for Iberian and Latin American Studies and Ctr. for Comparative Immigration Studies Working Paper No. 150, 2007),  https://ccis.ucsd.edu/_files/wp150.pdf.

[5] The Wall Around the West: State Borders and Immigration Controls in North America and Europe 62 (Peter Andreas and Timothy Synder, eds., 2000).

[6] Raquel Aldana, Won Kidane, Beth Lyon, and Karla McKanders, Global Issues in Migration Law 103 (2013).

[7]  U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Southwest Border Unaccompanied Alien Children FY 2014 (2015).

[8]  Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Tom Dart, Child migrants at Texas border: an immigration crisis that’s hardly new, The Guardian (July 9, 2014), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/09/us-immigration-undocumented-children-texas.

[11] Id.

[12] Aaron Korthuis, Outsourcing Refoulement: The United States and the Central American Refugee Crisis, Yale Journal of International Law (2016).

[13] Mexico’s Other Border Security, Migration, and the Humanitarian Crisis at the Line with Central America, The Washington Office on Latin America (2014).

[14] Id.

[15] Border Statistics Update: Mexico’s Increased Enforcement Matches U.S. Border Efforts, The Washington Office on Latin America (May 20, 2015), https://www.wola.org/2(015/05/border-statistics-update-mexicos-increased-enforcement-matches-us-border-efforts/.

[16] Clay Boggs, Mexico’s Southern Border Plan: More Deportations and Widespread Human Rights Violations, The Washington Office on Latin America (Mar. 19, 2015).

[17] Id.

[18] Carrie Kahn, Mexican Crackdown Slows Central American Immigration To U.S., NPR (Sept. 12, 2014), https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2014/09/12/347747148/mexican-crackdown-slows-central-american-immigration-to-u-s.

[19] Id.

[20] John Holman, Mexico’s ‘invisible wall’, a Migrant Double Standard, Aljazeera (Feb. 16, 2107), https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/02/mexico-invisible-wall-migrant-double-standard-170214213612822.html.

[21] Boggs, supra note 16.

[22] The Wall Around the West: State Borders and Immigration Controls in North America and Europe 63 (Peter Andreas and Timothy Synder, eds. 2000).

[23] Id.

[24] G. John Ikenberry, Getting hegemony right, The National Interest 18 (2001).

[25] Id. at 20-21.

[26] Kahn, supra note 19.

[27]Jie Zong and Jeanna Batalova, Jeanna, Mexican Immigrants in the United States, Migration Policy Institute (Mar. 17, 2016), https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/mexican-immigrants-united-states.

[28] Id.

[29] James F. Hollifield, The Emerging Migration State, 38 The International Migration

Review 885, 893 (2004).

[30] Id. at 887.

[31] Id.

[32] See Id. at 893.

[33] Emily Stewart, Trump campaign ad says Democrats are “complicit” in murders committed by undocumented immigrants, Vox (Jan. 21, 2018), https://www.vox.com/platform/amp/policy-and-politics/2018/1/21/16916480/trump-complicit-ad.

[34] Jessica Trisko Darden, A NAFTA renegotiation may have some unexpected consequences on US immigration and border security, Business Insider (May 5, 2017), http://www.businessinsider.com/nafta-renegotiation-trump-mexico-implications-2017-5?r=UK&IR=T.

[35] Donald Trump’s Mexico wall: Who is going to pay for it?, BBC News (Feb. 6, 2017), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-37243269.

[36] Mexican opposition candidates slam Trump wall ahead of campaign, Reuters (Feb. 18, 2018), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mexico-election/mexican-opposition-candidates-slam-trump-wall-ahead-of-campaign-idUSKCN1G2061.

[37] Miriam Valverde, Have deportations increased under Donald Trump? Here’s what the data shows, Politifact (Dec. 19, 2017), http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2017/dec/19/have-deportations-increased-under-donald-trump-her/.

[38] Trump Says May Tie Mexican Immigration Control to NAFTA, Reuters (last visited April 23, 2018), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-trade-nafta-trump/trump-says-may-tie-mexican-immigration-control-to-nafta-idUSKBN1HU1ZE

[39] Darden, supra note 35.

[40] Julian Borger and David Argen, Mexico will not accept Trump’s immigration plans, says foreign minister, The Guardian (Feb. 22, 2017), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/22/mexico-trump-immigration-foreign-minister-luis-videgaray.

[41] Hollifield, supra note 30 at 903.

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Critical Analysis: The 20-Year Anniversary of NAFTA

How did you ring in the New Year?  Did you raise a toast to the 20th anniversary of North American Free Trade Agreement?  Probably not, but January 1, 2014, marked the 20th year of NAFTA’s existence.  NAFTA is one of the largest trading blocs in the world and thus still remains a relevant point of discussion when evaluating United States (U.S.) trade policy.

In many ways NAFTA did just what a free-trade agreement is primarily aimed at accomplishing: increase trade.  Today, trade between Mexico, the U.S., and Canada has increased by 3.5 times the levels seen in 1994.  In 2010, the U.S. had $918 billion in trade with Canada and Mexico.  Mexico has become a major automaker.  It now produces 3 million vehicles per year, an increase of 50% since 1994.  Finally, the U.S.’s and Mexico’s investment in Canada has tripled since 1994.

In terms of trade liberalization, NAFTA is a success.  Yet, NAFTA still faces criticisms for perpetuating economic and social barriers and inequalities.  Some of the identified underlying economic and social goals of the signing parties to NAFTA are as follows: promote equitable wages, job growth, align environmental standards, and increase investment.

As NAFTA turns twenty, the agreement has accomplished what it was designed to do - increase trade. Image Source: The Economist/Dave Simonds

As NAFTA turns twenty, the agreement has accomplished what it was designed to do – increase trade. Image Source: The Economist/Dave Simonds

Although there has been an increase in automotive manufacturing in Mexico, the jobs in the industry are notoriously low paying (about 15% of wages paid in the U.S.).  The wage gap between Mexico and the U.S. and Canada exists in other industries as well.  However, Mexico has failed to strengthen its labor unions even though the competition (Latin American and Asian countries) has, keeping Mexican wages low and failing to reach the goal of wage equality.

Economists still debate whether NAFTA has led to net job growth or net job loss.  On one hand, more jobs have been created in Mexico and Canada in the manufacturing sector and more export related jobs have been created in the U.S. On the other hand, manufacturing jobs in the U.S. have been outsourced to countries, such as Mexico, where the wages are lower. In the manufacturing sector, it seems as though NAFTA members must first accomplish the goals of equitable wages before job growth is a possibility.

Upon the ratification of NAFTA, NAFTA members negotiated a parallel agreement focusing on environmental concerns: the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAACE).  The NAACE aims to improve member nations’ understanding of the effects trade has on the environment and to align member nations’ environmental policies.  Although the NAACE has set forth an environmental agenda for NAFTA members, measuring its success has been difficult.  The body has not yet determined what data would produce high-quality environmental linkages to trade.  The connections the NAACE has made show that trade liberalization depletes specific natural resources and leads to increased air and water pollution.  The main reason for such impacts is that NAFTA member nations have failed to integrate trade and environmental policies that combat such negative impacts.

NAFTA has increased investments in all three signatories.  The binding arbitration panels for foreign investors allows “investors to bypass the courts with complaints that government regulation unfairly affects their businesses” and, therefore, are quite favorable to investors.  Those complaints brought before the panel deal with resource management or environmental rules.  In total, Mexico and Canada have paid about $350 million in damages to foreign investors.  What about the U.S. you ask? Well, the U.S. hasn’t paid a penny.  These panels overwhelmingly rule in favor of U.S. investors, exasperating yet another inequality where the U.S. ends up on top.

These failures cannot be overlooked, but is the correlation to NAFTA really as strong as critics seem to think?  NAFTA has done exactly what free trade agreements are supposed to do: increase and liberalize trade.  In order to accomplish the underlying goals, governments need to make broader policy changes. First and foremost, member nations need to align their policies in the areas that effect trade, for example, environmental and worker protection.  Second, members need to invest in themselves to get up to par with these policies.  Third, members need to let go of protectionist measures and let comparative advantage do its work. The U.S. continues to protect markets (namely agriculture) in which it does not have the comparative advantage, disallowing counties (namely Mexico) from holding a larger stake in those markets.

Using free trade agreements as motivation to make larger policy changes might work, but free trade agreements themselves will not fix broken policies.

Alicia Guber is a 2L and the Alumni Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Critical Analysis: The Zapatista Rebellion: 20 Years Later

New years day marked the simultaneous 20th anniversary of the famed Zapatista uprising, and the date at which the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect. On January 1st, a number of Zapatista sympathizers gathered in Mexico and around the world to remember the violent uprising and to bring light to the continuing mission of the Zapatistas and the EZLN.

On January 1st, 1994, armed insurgents from the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) stormed cities in the Mexican state of Chiapas.  Following decades of increasing frustration with land distribution and a growing guerilla population, the EZLN rebelled to protest the overall treatment of indigenous Mexican people, the implementation of NAFTA, and President Salinas de Gortari’s decision to amend Article 27 of the Mexican constitution and allow for the privatization of indigenous lands. NAFTA provisions allowed foreign and domestic private investors to purchase indigenous land. The Zapatistas set out not to overthrow the Mexican government, but primarily to stand against the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had held power in Mexico for over 60 years. During the conflict, approximately 3,000 Zapatista supporters burned military buildings and released inmates in San Cristobal de las Casas, a small city in southern Mexico where many political prisoners were being held.  Their efforts were met with resistance on January 2nd, when the Mexican Army counterattacked, resulting in in significant casualties.  Fighting ended January 12th, when Samuel Ruiz bishop of the Diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, acted as a mediator between the EZLN and the PRI, and declared a ceasefire.  Although the Zapatista ideology and rebellion began long before the 1994 uprising, the New Years incident is often considered the starting point of the ongoing Zapatista quest for indigenous land rights in Mexico.

Zapatista supporters celebrate the 20th anniversary of the rebellion. Image Source: AP

Zapatista supporters celebrate the 20th anniversary of the rebellion. Image Source: AP

The Zapatista ideology, Zapatismo, draws from a number of schools including traditional Mayan practices, libertarian socialism, and Marxism. Closely associated with the former National Liberation Forces (FLN,) the EZLN was heavily influenced by a Marxist-Leninist goal of creating an army to resist post 1968 “Cultural Revolution” state forces.

Today, many Zapatistas live in independent communities on the land gained during the 1994 rebellion.  Called “caracoles,” these communities are independent from local government. Signs warning visitors of the nature of the community line the entrance to each village with sayings like: “You are in Zapatista territory in rebellion: here the people rule and the government must obey.” The schools are lined with murals depicting the rebellion, and the farms are run independently.  These small communities remain essentially autonomous from the Mexican government. Despite the implied picturesque notion of small farming communities delighting in total freedom, the Zapatista villages remain in poverty in large part due to their refusal of government aid.

The EZLN movement is still alive today, and although the Zapatistas still remain at war with the Mexican government, the current fight is essentially nonviolent and largely theological.  Still retaining the signature black masks, EZLN representatives sporadically appear on local TV and Internet live streams. “The EZLN remains alive, not as a military option, but as a social and political organization that fights for a dignified life,” says Catholic Bishop of San Cristobal de las Casas and long-time Zapatista supporter Felipe Arizmendi.

However, support has decreased substantially, in large part due to the prominent indigenous empowerment efforts elsewhere. “They left. Some went faster than others. And the majority of them don’t look at us, or they do so with the same distance and intellectual disdain that they did before the dawn of Jan. 1, 1994,” Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marco said in a recent statement.  Additionally, although the Zapatistas are often publicly vocal, the group has received heavy criticism for their abrupt and extended periods of public silence.

Although the Mexican constitution was amended in 2001 to protect indigenous rights and lands, discrimination against the rural indigenous population, and a frustration with the effects of NAFTA on the Mexican economy remains widespread. Additionally, with Mexico’s recent approval of a number of energy reforms allowing for foreign oil drilling, many worry that frustrations are reaching a similar level to that of 20 years ago.

Bree Plasters is currently a 2L and a Staff Editor at the Denver Journal for International Law and Policy

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