There have been many articles and books written about the accelerating pace of North American integration and its desirability. Regardless of the latter, the North American Free Trade Agreement quickened the pace of convergence by putting in place a commercial integrative framework that will be very difficult to dismantle. On the desirability front, there are those who see it as something positive. The late Robert Pastor's book The North American Idea champions that concept of a unified North America — one with absolute mobility of goods, services and capital, but also human beings — and sets it up as a goal for all three nations sharing the continent, Canada, the United States and Mexico.

The idea of North America, however, also has important detractors. Some stand against the idea of North America in defense of national sovereignty. Others dislike it on the basis of the incompatibility of our political systems, all of which view the role of government in society as coming from very different traditions. These also argue that integration is equivalent to the dilution of American national values. One such opponent to integration was Samuel Huntington, who asks this very question in his book Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity.


None of these arguments will stand the test of history. Most of them will eventually lose the battle in favor of a more integrated North American continent, although the contours of this unification are really left to future generations to determine.

More important than these subjective judgments based on nationalism or the dilution of the American identity is the practical matter of whether Mexico will ever be ready. As of today, there are practical arguments against further integration with Mexico. And they are valid. But they are hardly of Mexico's own doing. The United States is contributing to the making and maintenance of these obstacles and must assume co-responsibility for preparing the way of the future. Here, I will address one of these practical issues, corruption, and how the U.S. facilitates it.

A caveat is in order. The argument here is not to say that the United States is to blame for the corruption that has plagued the Mexican political, economic and social system over the last decades. Mexicans must take responsibility for enabling it in a myriad of ways. The argument here is simply to say that it is urgent for the U.S. government to begin to systematically study how the American system itself aids and abets corruption in Mexico, own up to its responsibility, and help Mexico fight it.

The latest publication by The New York Times on the way that powerful Mexican political families invest and hide ill-gotten money in the U.S, with nearly total impunity, is something that has long been talked about by the common Mexican citizen and known intuitively or factually by many. The New York City apartments of the Murat family, the Miami condominium of the Mexican first lady or the San Diego homes of the now-jailed teachers' union leader are just the tip of the iceberg. How Mexican politicians and oligarchs have sacked the country and with few or no consequences taken their gains to America is not only well suspected, but in all likelihood very provable by scratching the surface of the origins of their financial transfers. And although U.S. authorities know this, as manifest in the investigations of corrupt Mexican governors such as Humberto Moreira of Coahuila and Tomás Yarrington of Tamaulipas, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Justice Department have never taken a hard look at Mexican corruption and the way that the American financial system facilitates it, beyond a few cases that are mostly related to drug trafficking. It would almost seem that they are happy to look the other way and cuddle Mexican corrupt politicians — as long as their corruption is not related to drug trafficking.

Why is it important to subject the Mexican political class to closer American scrutiny of their wealth? For several reasons. First, the U.S. has become a place to launder Mexican taxpayers' monies with impunity. This is not only bad for our political reputation in Mexico, given that it is breeding resentment from the Mexican citizenry, on whom this is not lost. Second, the Mexican political class has no incentive to investigate itself. The recent appointment of one of President Enrique Peña Nieto's personal friends to investigate corruption is an unacceptable conflict of interest which would not fly in the United States. But the United States does have the means to investigate corruption when it crosses its borders and the moral obligation to ensure that its financial system does not become the kind of haven for dirty money that we criticize others for. Third, if we truly want to ensure that North American integration is founded on mutual trust and a carefully crafted consensus among all three publics, the United States has an obligation to ensure that Mexicans recover the trust they have lost in their government and help calm the quiet desperation that is seeping in the Mexican mind about political class.

This last point has deeper consequences worth examining. No one has gained more from the recent corruption scandals in Mexico than Andrés López Obrador, the populist leftist whose degree of friendliness to the United States has not yet been tested. If López Obrador runs again in 2018, as he has announced, and wins the presidency, out of sheer popular resentment, he could begin an era of geopolitical realignment of Mexico that would not necessarily serve American interests in Latin America.

Thus, it is clear that nothing can do more harm to the idea of the desirability of an orderly and peaceful North America and a well-managed integration process that can serve all three publics than the fact that Mexico is perceived as a corrupt country whose values are simply incompatible with those of the United States and Canada and that the United States is aiding and abetting Mexican corruption by providing haven for stolen wealth. More than nationalism or the possibility that American identity could be diluted, the idea of incompatible values is what stops cooperation between the two nations or prevents it from widening and deepening. This has long been evident to the law enforcement community. But we cannot simply say North American integration is undesirable because Mexico's values are incompatible with those of the United States if we do not take a careful look at how the American financial system has facilitated that corruption by providing haven to ill-gotten fortunes and refuge to corrupt Mexican politicians.

This piece has been corrected to reflect that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto's appointment of a friend to investigate corruption would be unacceptable in the U.S.

Payan, Ph.D., is director of the Mexico Center at Rice University's Baker Institute. He is the editor of Undecided Nation: Political Gridlock and the Immigration Crisis.