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Efforts With Mexico to Address Immigration Issues

U.S. Government's Efforts With Mexico to Address Immigration Issues

Elizabeth A. Whitaker, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Western Hemisphere Affairs
Testimony before the House International Relations Committee, Subcommittee on
the Western Hemisphere
Washington, DC
July 26, 2006

Mr. Chairman, members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to meet with you today to discuss the U.S. Government's efforts with Mexico to address immigration issues.

The modern U.S.-Mexico relationship is marked by common values and interests, and that allows us to work in close cooperation on the many issues that affect the well-being of our citizens. Recent years have seen an unprecedented level of bilateral cooperation in such areas as democracy, free trade, counter-terrorism, law enforcement, the environment, energy, and transportation -- some more challenging than others. Additionally -- and most relevant to this hearing -- we work together closely to keep our shared border secure while facilitating the flow of legitimate goods and people across it. With more than a million people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border daily, you have some sense of the dimension of the challenge.

We have worked closely with Mexico to create institutions and infrastructure to enhance border security while making border transit easier and quicker for legitimate travelers and goods. The U.S.-Mexico Border Partnership, established by agreement of Presidents Bush and Fox in 2002, and now largely incorporated into the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), continues to pursue those goals. That program established trusted traveler programs for both passengers and cargo to allow us to focus on real threats at the border. SENTRI lanes (Secure Electronic Network for Rapid Travelers Inspection) ensure expedited crossings for identified low risk travelers. A similar program of FAST lanes (Free and Secure Trade) for cargo shipments provides expedited crossings for cargo from participating companies who have demonstrated that their facilities are secure and their shipments low-risk. It is clear that with a trade relationship the dimensions of which we have with Mexico -- over $270 billion per year, and second only in size to our trade with Canada -- we must continue to make those crossings even more swift and safe, and we are committed to doing even more to achieve that goal.

One significant challenge in the border region is the rise of crime and violence, largely due to the activities of narco-trafficking organizations on both sides of the border. The Mexican government has attacked this problem on its side by sending in military and federal police forces to take temporary control over security, and to purge and revamp local police forces in areas where the violence is acute, such as in Nuevo Laredo. We continue to strengthen and extend cross-border linkages among the law enforcement agencies present on the border, so that both sides are able to mount coordinated responses to breaking security events.

Our Border Liaison Mechanism (BLM) meetings are another example of such cross-border linkages. Hosted by each of the Department of State's border posts and their Mexican diplomatic counterparts two to four times a year, these sessions bring together U.S. and Mexican diplomatic, law enforcement and other personnel from all levels of government on both sides to discuss issues requiring operational and policy coordination.

In addition, for the past two years our governments have collaborated on the Interior Repatriation Program, which has returned nearly 35,000 Mexican illegal immigrants apprehended in Arizona to their hometowns in the interior of Mexico in an effort to break the chain between illegal migrants and those who would smuggle them into the U.S. DHS recently began a third wave of interior repatriations, scheduled to run through September 30, and I'm certain my DHS colleague can speak more to this.Â

Mexico has taken its own measures to stem the flow of illegal immigrants on its southern border -- people clearly headed to the United States. In 2005, Mexico deported 235,000 people who had crossed its border illegally. The Government of Mexico has tightened its visa regime to require that nationals from countries that were sending large numbers of illegal immigrants apply for visas before entering the country. Mexico has signed an agreement with Guatemala governing the repatriation of Guatemalan citizens who are in Mexico illegally, and with Belize in an effort to reinforce their shared border against illegal crossings. The United States has supported the Mexican government's efforts to control its southern border by establishing, training, and equipping three specialized mobile interdiction teams, and providing three highly-sophisticated mobile inspection vans that can inspect cargo vehicles for contraband and hidden passengers. In addition, the U.S. Government has sponsored border safety training for Mexican officials in Chiapas. Such cooperation on so many fronts is critical on Mexico's southern border, which is remote, sparsely-populated and essentially porous.

President Fox took office in Mexico making immigration reform in the United States his number one foreign policy priority. While for us immigration is largely a domestic, not foreign policy issue, we have discussed the issue with the Mexican government on many occasions. Ultimately, we know that immigration from Mexico to the United States will not be permanently reduced until Mexico's economy is more competitive and produces more good jobs, and the government improves education and infrastructure in Mexico's poorer states. Indeed, *this* was the central thrust of immigration commentary by all presidential candidates during the recent campaign. The U.S. Government shares the view that the best way to reduce illegal migration is through economic development.

Since NAFTA went into effect in 1994, trade between the United States and Mexico has almost quadrupled, and direct investment between the countries has flourished. Today, value-added manufactured goods account for 90 percent of Mexico's exports, and there is substantial evidence that trade has played a very positive role in Mexico's development. For example, Mexican firms that export have created more than half of Mexico's new jobs since 1995, and those jobs pay on average 40 percent more than jobs in Mexican firms that do not export.

Despite the enormous success of NAFTA, North America -- and Mexico in particular -- still face significant economic challenges. The Partnership for Prosperity (P4P) is a public/private sector initiative launched by Presidents Bush and Fox in September 2001 that focuses on developing those parts of Mexico which have benefited least from NAFTA. P4P projects focus existing resources primarily on Mexico's poor, migrant-producing states. For example, under it, Mexico and OPIC signed a historic agreement in 2004 for well over $800 million in financing for projects such as affordable housing and potable water. USAID and the U.S. Department of Agriculture work with their Mexican counterparts on rural development projects in Mexico and expanding access for small entrepreneurs throughout the country to the financial services and markets. All of this P4P activity is with an eye to increasing Mexico's competitiveness, increasing employment and incomes, and decreasing the flow of immigrants.

As you know, our ties with Mexico are increasingly framed by our trilateral relationship, including Canada, as we all share a continued commitment to enhance the security, prosperity, and quality of life for our citizens within North America. Created in March 2005, the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, or SPP, provides a framework for us to advance collaboration in areas as diverse as security, transportation, the environment and public health. Indeed, SPP's goals are in many ways a broader version of much of P4P.

The Government of Mexico is also investing heavily in its own development programs. One such program grants funds to indigenous cooperatives and individually-owned businesses for market development and export promotion. Mexico has designed and implemented a highly successful conditional cash transfer program with assistance from the World Bank. This program provides money to poor families which ensure that their children attend school and visit health centers regularly. This program, called "Oportunidades," has already yielded lower incidence of illness among children and increases in mean growth per year among children aged 12-36 months. This year, Mexico's National Employment Service began a program in border states called "Deportees at Work," which rehabilitates repatriated Mexicans by giving them training and employment to keep them from migrating again.

Recognizing that a transparent and efficient justice system is needed for business competitiveness, USAID and the Department of State's International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement Bureau (INL) support Mexican initiatives in state and federal jurisdictions to develop criminal justice reforms; train judges, prosecutors, and public defenders; and enhance the investigative and forensic capabilities of Mexican civil authorities and investigative police. We are gratified by the number of states that are requesting assistance for such reform, recognizing that it will provide swifter, more equitable justice for all, as well as a more level playing field for investors and businesspeople, thereby stimulating economic development.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my remarks. I would be happy to answer any questions you, or other members of the Subcommittee, may have. Thank you.

Released on July 26, 2006


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