From immigration to opioids, Mexico is a partner in US national security


With the fifth round of renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) concluded, it’s time to recognize that there’s a lot more at stake than we realize. NAFTA has not only built a close commercial relationship between the United States and Mexico, but is also fundamental to a trustworthy strategic partnership. If we fail to recognize this, we will miss the bigger picture and risk U.S. national security.  

The foundation of strong bilateral cooperation is a robust economic relationship. Trade agreements have been used to establish strong commercial relations, that in turn bind countries together to further U.S. geopolitical aims, in ways unmatched by most other policy tools. Today, Mexico is not only an essential economic partner but also an indispensable security partner. This is all subject to change should NAFTA renegotiations turn sour.  

{mosads}Lasting diplomatic relations between countries are built upon trust, skillful negotiating and similar ideological perspectives. Policies aren’t isolated, but instead interconnected. A change to one policy will have a rippling impact in other areas. An end to NAFTA would mean a reevaluation of other areas on which we currently collaborate. On November 11th, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said:

“It’s good for Mexico that we cooperate with the US on security and also on migration and many other issues, but it’s a fact of life and there is a political reality that a bad outcome on NAFTA will have some impact on that.”

Mexico is not a security threat, but is instead a partner that has neutralized many threats before they reach our border. Every day, Mexican and American agencies and agents share intelligence and work together to stop cross-border crime that threatens Americans. They curb the illegal trafficking of drugs, arms and money, stop gangs, child exploitation, illicit tunnels and even commercial fraud.

In October, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency as it is killing more than one hundred people each day. On November 7th, Mexican authorities seized 31 pounds of the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl near the U.S. border. This drug is deadly as four and a half pounds is enough to kill the entire population of Columbus, Ohio – approximately 860,000 people.

Mexico is spending its resources to help stop the U.S. opioid crisis. This is something they don’t have to do as most of the drugs are simply passing through to the U.S. and not being consumed in Mexico. Although more must be done to curb demand for opioids in the United States, in the meantime we need Mexico to help us attack the supply chains.

A strong U.S.-Mexico economic partnership has spurred collaboration on immigration. Information sharing has facilitated travel for legitimate businesses and individuals while at the same time increasing identification of those who have violated immigration laws or pose a national security concern. Today, the number of unauthorized Mexican migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border is near its lowest level since the early 1970s. Mexico has become our best partner in clamping down on unauthorized migration and assisting with refugee resettlement.

During my four years as an advisor on Capitol Hill, I saw firsthand the disconnect between trade policy, security, immigration and diplomacy. These critical issues are often divided among several staffers, different committees and various federal agencies which make decisions with little consideration of impact on other inter-connected matters. There is too much at risk to do the same with NAFTA renegotiations. Changing the U.S.-Mexico economic relationship will impact U.S. national security. There is no room for error.  

A new report by the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center showcases what our continent would look like without the agreement. The result is a very different North America, one that we hope remains a hypothetical and not a reality. We are stronger and safer when we work together.

Katherine Pereira is an associate director at the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. She is on Twitter at @KatherinePerei2.


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