Americans’ views of neighbor Mexico have always been mixed and complicated, and 2017’s perspective on it and its 131 million people are no less so.
It is beyond dispute that one of the reasons that the United States has been able for centuries to have a safe, independent relationship with the rest of the world is that its borders are formed by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans on the east and west and Canada and Mexico on the north and south. There have been times when the United States has had to swat Mexico, notably in the U.S.-Mexican War, 1846-48, and when Gen. John J. Pershing chased Mexican rebel Pancho Villa into Mexico unsuccessfully in 1916 after Villa raided Columbus, New Mexico.
In general, however, U.S.-Mexican relations have been relatively smooth.
Many Americans see Mexico’s nearness as a plus. The beaches are nice, the food is tasty — as is the tequila — and the music and art add something important to American culture. Americans who speak a second language usually speak Spanish, a useful language not only in the Southwest but also in big U.S. cities.
Perhaps, after security, the most significant aspect of U.S.-Mexican relations now is commercial. Two-way trade, especially since the inauguration of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, is important to both countries. The role of legal and illegal Mexican workers in the United States is also a major aspect of relations. Some Americans would argue that Mexican workers take American jobs. Others would argue that Mexicans perform work that Americans don’t want to do.
There are now some significant bumps in the road in U.S.-Mexican relations. The Pew Research Center found recently that nearly two-thirds of Mexicans now have an unfavorable view of U.S. policies. Some Americans regret this; others feel that the poll results are evidence that President Donald Trump’s approach to Mexico is working.
One problem between the two countries is the review of NAFTA, now underway, but at a leisurely pace. The agreement can be improved; even its advocates have to see how it has caused severe harm to sectors of the U.S. economy while benefiting others. It doesn’t make sense for the United States to withdraw from it, affecting as it does not only U.S. relations with Mexico but also with Canada, America’s other critical trading and security partner.
A second issue is the eventual fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, with grave importance for the future of some 800,000 people who were brought into the United States illegally as children, many of them Mexican in origin. The main problem of U.S. political consideration of their fate is its uncertainty, as Trump, the Democratic legislative leadership and divided Republicans maneuver over the fate of these people. Mexicans and many Americans tend to see political dangling of their futures as, first, anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant, and, second, just cruel, which Trump seems to grasp.
A third issue is Trump’s famous wall across the southern U.S. border. It is perfectly clear that the United States needs not only clear immigration policy but also security on its borders. On the other hand, there is a decent argument that says the United States should help Mexico tighten security on its southern border with Central and South America, rather than hand out big construction contracts to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border, particularly when America is now facing big bills to fix the results of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Trump could now do worse than pay a visit to Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, in spite of the demonstrations it might draw, to patch things up for the negative exchange of messages between them over Mexico’s paying for the wall, and Pena Nieto’s cancellation of his visit to the United States in January. Keeping matters on an even keel in relations with Mexico and Canada must remain a core objective of U.S. foreign policy. There is just no point in quarreling with our neighbors.