Although none of those proposals madeprogress in 2004,after the elections PresidentBush restated his commitment to achievingimmigration reform in his second term. To lay the groundwork for a reasoned con-sideration of policy options,this study describes how the United States got into itscurrent predicament with respect to Mexicanimmigration.It then outlines the sorts of poli-cies that that must be implemented if we are toget out.
Roots of the Current Problem
The year 1986 was pivotal for the politicaleconomy of North America.Two things hap-pened in that year that signaled the end of oneera and the beginning of another.In Mexico,anew political elite succeeded in overcoming his-torical opposition within the ruling party tosecure the country’s entry into the GeneralAgreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).Building on that initiative,President CarlosSalinas approached the United States in 1988 tomake the economic reforms permanent by forg-ing a continentwide alliance to create a free tradezone stretching from Central America to theArctic,which ultimately resulted in the NorthAmerican Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
While trade liberalization took a step for- ward in 1986,labor market mobility took a stepbackward.Even as U.S.officials worked withMexican authorities to integrate NorthAmerican markets for goods,capital,informa-tion,raw materials,and services,they simulta-neously acted to prevent the integration of Mexican and American labor markets.Ratherthan incorporating the movement of workersinto the new free trade agreement,the U.S.gov-ernment sought to unilaterally restrict themovement of workers.To underscore its resolve,in 1986 Congress passed the ImmigrationReform and Control Act,which criminalizedthe hiring of undocumented workers by U.S.employers and increased funding for the U.S.Border Patrol.Then,in 1993,Border Patrolofficials launched Operation Blockade in ElPaso,followed by Operation Gatekeeper in SanDiego.Those operations mobilized massiveresources in two border sectors to preventundocumented border crossings.
Thereafter the United States pursued anincreasingly contradictory set of policies,movingtoward integration while insisting on separation,moving headlong toward the consolidation of allNorth American markets save one:labor.Inorder to maintain the pretense that such selectiveintegration could be achieved and to demon-strate that the border was “under control,”theU.S.government devoted increasing financialand human resources to a show of force along theMexico-U.S.border,a repressive impulse thatonly increased in the wake of September 11.Unfortunately,those measures have not deterredMexicans from coming to the United States orprevented them from settling here.
Moving toward Integration
The adoption of economic reforms inMexico in 1986 accelerated cross-border flowsof all sorts,and those flows increased dramati-cally after NAFTA took effect in 1994.Consider,for example,trends in total tradebetween Mexico and the United States.From1986 to 2003 total trade between the twonations increased by a factor of eight,reaching$235 billion.
Over the same period,the num-ber of Mexicans entering the United States onbusiness visas more than tripled,from 128,000to 438,000 annually,while the number of intra-company transferees rose even more rapidly,from 4,300 to 16,000.From just 73 Mexican“treaty investors”in 1986 the number grew exponentially to 4,700 persons in 2003.(Treaty investors manage operations of an enterprise within the United States in which they are anactive investor.)
This growth of trade and business migration was accompanied by an expansion of othercross-border movements.Over the same period,the number of Mexican tourists entering theUnited States increased six-fold to 3.6 million, while the number entering the United States asstudents doubled to 22,500,and the number of educational and cultural exchange visitors morethan doubled,from about 3,000 to 6,600.
Even as U.S.offi-cials worked withMexican authori-ties to integrateNorth Americanmarkets,they simultaneously acted to preventthe integration of Mexican and American labor markets.