In an uninspiring and unsurprising United Nations General Assembly address last week, President Donald Trump did offer one comment that was discordant with his usual rhetoric. “I would like to thank President [Andres Manuel ]López Obrador of Mexico for the great cooperation we are receiving and for right now putting 27,000 troops on our southern border,” Trump told the delegates. “Mexico is showing us great respect, and I respect them in return.”
Respect is welcome, especially in light of Trump’s labeling Mexicans as criminals and rapists during his 2016 campaign kickoff.
Adding potential injury to that insult, the New York Times reported Wednesday, in March the president suggested that the unnecessary wall he wants to build (and have U.S. taxpayers — not Mexico — pay for) be bolstered by a moat filled with alligators or snakes, be electrified, and have flesh-piercing spikes. Trump also suggested shooting migrants in the legs to slow them down, according to the story that the president quickly refuted as “fake news.”
Responding to the report, Martha Barcena, Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S., told the Editorial Board this week that “life and physical integrity of all human beings is sacred, notwithstanding their migratory condition.”
That understated reaction reflects the Mexican government’s need to protect its people — and, by extension, the Central American migrants traversing the country — while building on the more productive aspects of the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Mexico.
Trade, for one, has exponentially expanded since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. That’s true for the U.S. and also for Minnesota, which has seen its exports to Mexico grow 865% since NAFTA’s passage. That’s just one data point in a raft of stats that Ambassador Barcena cited to urge that the commerce continue.
Overall, according to the Mexican government, there are 91,000 jobs in Minnesota that are supported by trade with Mexico, and 1,404 jobs that are supported by Mexican companies. With an increase of 10% from 2017, last year was the best ever for total exports of Minnesota goods. And Mexico, as the state’s third-largest trading partner, played a significant role, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
That ranking is at risk due to many factors, including tariffs contributing to a global slowdown that’s rattling equity markets. And despite a near-unanimous ratification in Mexico of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement free-trade pact that is meant to update and replace NAFTA, congressional inaction in this country puts the agreement in doubt. That in turn creates doubt among businesses on both sides of the border. “USMCA will give certainty and stability,” Barcena said. Washington’s paralysis isn’t likely to dissipate soon, especially given the impeachment inquiry. But some things, like the highly integrated economies of North America, are too important to ignore, so Congress should advance its deliberation on this agreement.
Of course the two countries are bonded by more than trade. Culture, food and a shared heritage are just a few of the commonalities.
“Mexicans, and Hispanics in general, are the past, present and future of the U.S.,” Barcena said. No wall or moat is likely to change that.