Dear President-Elect Donald Trump,
I write to you as a citizen of the United States and of Mexico, and as a fellow New Yorker. My American grandmother was brought to Mexico as a teenager when her father was commissioned with the expansion of a soda business there. She met my Mexican grandfather at the American school in Mexico City and spent the rest of her life there working as an English language teacher, instilling in our family the pride and the value of being bicultural and bilingual.
During my college years, I was fortunate to study in the United States with the support of scholarships specifically geared toward promoting a better understanding of Mexico in the United States and vice versa. Mirroring my grandmother’s story, I married an American whose Jewish family came to the United States from Poland and Romania in the aftermath of the First World War. Our two children are fully bilingual, bicultural and binational, and are proud to call themselves Mexican and American.
Although my life is marked by stories of migration, it was on a research trip to the Calexico-Mexicali border that I fully awoke to the realities of Mexican migration to the United States. Riding on a van with Border Patrol, talking to migrants who had just been detained, and listening to their fears and hopes on both sides of the border, I encountered critical questions about human mobility, inequality and U.S.-Mexico ties that I have worked to address as a scholar. It is clear that the challenges that we face today are the result of policy failures on both sides of the border, but likewise, the opportunities that migration represents can only be leveraged if both countries work together.
Underlying your proposal to build a wall that Mexico would pay for, there is a necessary call for Mexico to assume greater responsibility for the emigration of its citizens and an opportunity to refocus the debate around the distribution of costs and benefits of migration. However, limiting the discussion to the question of who would pay for the wall actually deflects such responsibility because the problem is not about stopping people from crossing the border. The key challenge is how to create conditions within Mexico that prevent people from forcibly leaving their homes in the first place as well as recognizing the historical, economic, social and political conditions that bring them to the United States.
As you know, over the last two decades, billions of dollars have been invested in building the walls, fences and surveillance technology that already cover most areas of the 2,000-mile border. These barriers have not deterred people from migrating to the United States. Instead, they have claimed many lives and put thousands in danger at the hands of smugglers and criminal organizations who have gained the most from the fact that there are no other available channels to regulate a movement of people that results from push and pull conditions in both countries. Your immigration plan rightly recognizes the need for a reform of immigration laws and policies to ensure that the system benefits the U.S. and its workers. As a businessman, you are in a good position to understand that investing resources to address the root causes of migration through options such as development funds (including a financial commitment from both countries) coupled with paths for migration that realistically and fairly adjust for the demand and supply of labor and offer reasonable frameworks for family reunification would be a much smarter use of time and money, and would leave a lasting legacy.
Beyond the issue of migration, you have rightly pointed out that Mexico has been unable to effectively address the problem of drug trafficking. The military strategy to respond to the drug cartels since 2006 has spurred further violence, which spreads across the border, where the largest consumer market for such substances exists. A wall will not stop the flow of drugs across the border because it would perpetuate the current view of the problem as a security issue rather than a public health matter. Moreover, it would negate the fact that poverty and inequality in Mexico have led thousands of young people to the drug trade because their choices for a better life in Mexico are limited. Your focus on holding Mexico accountable can make a long-term impact if it addresses the drug issue in terms of production and consumption, focusing on creating sustainable job and educational opportunities for those involved in trafficking on both sides of the border, and strengthening the rule of law to eradicate the corruption that has allowed such criminal activity to proliferate.
Like my family, there are 36 million people in the United States who share the pride of being a part of both countries. Their presence in the United States dates back to 1848, when half of Mexico’s territory became part of this country. Throughout our shared history, despite Mexicans’ deep ties and contributions to the U.S., there have been various campaigns to deport many of them back to the place where they were born, whether because their labor is no longer deemed necessary or because they are labeled as criminals, even when they have not committed any major offense. These policies have torn families apart and damaged the social fabric of both countries, with consequences that are deeply felt, economically, socially and politically.
The individual lives that are at stake are those of people that the U.S. has invested in and who are rooted in a country they consider their own. They and their children (many of them U.S. citizens) have been educated in public schools and colleges in the United States, and are active participants in the workforce and in their communities. Deporting them or terminating programs such as DACA means that millions of individuals who have built their lives in the U.S. often return to places that they do not know, where the possibility to fully develop their potential and exercise their rights is limited, especially if the conditions that they left in the first place have not changed. The tremendous resources required for mass deportations would be better spent in education, health and job training programs across borders that recognize the opportunity of having a binational population that can move fluidly across the border and continue to grow ties between the two countries. Mexico already commits significant resources to such programs through its consulates, in collaboration with civil society and local government partnerships. This means there is already a strong infrastructure on which to build, with funding from both countries.
Throughout your campaign, you made very clear the importance of focusing on Mexico as a priority for the United States. Your presidency represents a unique opportunity to demonstrate that the two countries can work together and be held accountable for shared challenges, recognizing that our history, our people, our cultures, and our economies are bound together. The lives and wellbeing of millions of Americans and Mexicans in both countries are at stake.