A response to The Economist article: “The U.S.-Mexican Border: Good Neighbors Make Fences”

The October 2nd issue of The Economist ran an article with the strongly-worded title: “The U.S.-Mexican Border: Good Neighbours Make Fences.” Over the past year, the United States has been intent on expanding its security against unregulated immigration along the Mexican border as fast as possible by increasing the number of border patrol officers from about 6,000 to 18,000. At this point, both U.S. political parties – supported by U.S. public opinion – have become avid supporters of an impregnable border, and are prepared to freely expend even greater resources in building protective barriers instead of solving what could be an even larger problem: Mexico’s inability to generate sufficient jobs or guarantee its own internal security against unremitting violence.

The annual net flow of Mexican migration to the United States has increased notably during the past three decades, spiking from an annual average of just under 30,000 refugees between 1961 and 1970 to nearly 400,000 between 2001 and 2004. This continuously growing migratory flow has resulted in a very large number of permanent Mexican American communities now residing in non-traditional parts of the country, like North Carolina. This enormous human movement has implications for family structure, employment and health care, and begs for further exploration and study in both countries, as well as the formulation of relevant policies.

Despite an extraordinary degree of economic interdependence along the boundary line separating Mexico and the U.S., economic development in the border zone has been uneven. Mexico’s border states display lower unemployment rates and higher wages compared to other parts of the country. The border states also have the lowest poverty rates and highest literacy rates to be found in Mexico.

Environmental and health issues constitute by far the most pressing social problems in the border area. Poor air quality, water scarcity and contamination, lead contamination, and improper waste disposal are only a few of the systemic issues affecting the region. The scarcity of water could conceivably be seen as the biggest cause for concern affecting the border region. Air pollution ranks among the most endemic of Mexico’s environmental problems, as particulate matter levels continue to exceed international standards, and many projects regarding the health effects of air pollution continue to be carried out throughout the region.

Ozone pollution threatens many communities, even though a recent relaxation in testing standards has reduced the number of instances in which limits are exceeded. Rural communities along the border are adversely affected by contamination from agricultural activities that threaten surface and groundwater reserves. Pesticide contamination poses a particular threat to areas with a high concentration of agricultural cultivation, such as the Imperial Valley and the Rio Grande Valley. Programs monitoring human exposure are scattered and highly uncoordinated.

At some point, the U.S. must face up the fact that it must mobilize its enormous capital and other resources to aid in the institutionalisation of Mexico’s lagging factory system, the Maquiladoras, which now export the bulk of their surplus production to the U.S. This trade arrangement inadvertently encourages the illegal penetration of the U.S. by Mexican migrants rendered jobless by the U.S.’ declining economy.