México finds itself in the crosshairs of Donald Trump’s political agenda. Trump is clear that he has nothing but animosity towards México and the Mexican people. As such, the Mexican government must start looking for ways to defend itself against an antagonistic U.S. government. México has few options but that does not mean it doesn’t have the teeth to make the point that the United States depends on México, especially a friendly and cooperative one.
In the 1980’s México embarked upon a foreign and internal policy agenda to modernize its economy to resolve some long-standing internal issues. Among them was a huge population about to enter the workforce and an oil dependent economy whose limited supplies meant that México could not depend on it for a long-term solution. Thus, México embraced a neoliberal economic policy through NAFTA.
Although NAFTA has been much maligned by people in both México and the United States since its inception, it has nonetheless grown the Mexican economy, allowed it to weather international upheavals (2008 economic crisis), and has resulted in more Mexicans returning to México instead of migrating to the US (Pew Research 2015). México has reduced its birthrate from 6.8 birth per woman in the 1960’s to 2.22 in 2012. In comparison, the United States’ birthrate is at 1.88. (World Bank)
There is no doubt that lack of resources, endemic corruption and narcotics trafficking continues to stymie México’s progress. As complex and vexing as those issues are, the fact is that México has succeeded on many of its modernization programs that it embarked upon through neoliberalism.
Neoliberalism, by the fact that it favors free-market capitalism, has the consequence that social services take a backseat to the free-market economy. That has created problems.
However, the economy of Venezuela is in shambles today because of its closed economy and its dependence on oil. This was the same economic model México had up until NAFTA was implemented. Had México not embraced neoliberalism, its economy would closely mirror Venezuela today and the United States, instead of having a stable and moderate country, whose citizens are leaving the United States to return to México today, would instead be faced with a chaotic Venezuela-type country on its southern border.
Hugo Chavez was elected on a platform of anti-Americanism who embraced nationalism as his political mantra. Chavez, a leftist populist leader used oil money to create a social services network to prop up his government by giving Venezuelan’s the notion that the government was responsible for taking care of their needs. But oil is a finite resource and one that is highly dependent on the politics of other nations. Thus, the Venezuelan economy is in such crisis today that food riots are now the norm in the country.
Interestingly one of the benefactors of Trump’s agenda of antagonism towards México is the resurgence of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) in Mexican politics, a leftist who models his politics after Hugo Chavez. Not only is AMLO against US policies but his politics are modeled after anti-Americanism and embraces socialism.
But the price of neoliberalism for México’s economic realignment has come at a cost that few thought possible.
The largest economy in the world is the United States. México’s proximity to the US and the assumption that subsequent U.S. governments had abandoned colonialism and embraced cooperation with its southern neighbor led México to make its economy 80% dependent on the United States.
México may have weathered the 2008 global economy crisis somewhat better than most other countries, precisely because of it diversified economy, but it is facing the possibility that its economy would crash because of the antagonism of the Trump administration.
México cannot end its exports to the United States and survive.
But it can make it costly for the Donald Trump administration to continue down the path of demonizing México and its people.
Although a trade war with the United States would be costly to both countries, it would be highly detrimental to México. México would enter a trade war with the United States only in retaliation to tariffs and import/export restrictions. Those would initially be reactive and measured to deal with specific U.S. trade policies. México would rather avoid a trade war. This is demonstrated by Enrique Peña Nieto’s measured response to Trump although he is under intense pressure to be more vocal and clear abut defending México against the Trump rhetoric.
However, NAFTA has a key component that makes it feasible for all three nations – cooperation.
With NAFTA, México grudgingly began cooperating with the United States on many issues. Among them and the most significant ones are terrorism and narcotics interdiction and immigration. México is unlikely to end cooperation with the United States on terrorism as any terrorist action linked to México would be detrimental to México.
The Donald Trump base is waiting for that one terrorist to be linked to México to finish off any relationship the U.S. has with México. The Mexican government clearly understands this.
Likewise, narcotics interdiction is a national security issue for México and although México may restrict certain cooperation – like armed customs agents on Mexican soil – much of the cooperation will remain intact for the time being.
However, on the immigration front, México could make it extremely difficult and costly for the United States to implement its deportation force and the deportation of the undocumented from the country.
All México needs to do is to slow down the process to the point that a bottleneck is created on the US side and the resources to keep the undocumented detained and process them through the court system would become untenable for the US government and especially for those who oppose Donald Trump’s administration.
Imagine tent cities on the US-México border and clogged up courts. That imagery would be enough to embolden the activists on the U.S. side to force Trump to capitulate.
Keep in mind that it is central and south American immigrants that traversing México to get to the United States. A 2015 Pew research paper has demonstrated that net migration from México to the United States is negative, meaning that more Mexicans are leaving then entering the US. That means that most undocumented immigrants that are likely to be rounded up for deportation are not Mexican, whether they recently entered the country or have been there for a few years.
Under the stateless doctrine under international law and upheld by the United States Supreme Court, an immigrant who is stateless, in other words does not hold citizenship in any country cannot be deported from the United States. This happens more often than many realize.
The 2001 Zadvydas v. Davis Supreme Court decision limits the amount of time the United States can detain an undocumented immigrant to 180 days’ maximum. The case arose out of two immigrants that could not be deported because the receiving countries either did not allow them back, or the immigrant held a passport from a defunct country. There are immigrants who still hold Soviet Union passports from former Soviet satellite countries.
It is the policy of México to accept its citizens back into the country. It is also part of the international laws governing immigration issues.
However, México could considerably hold up the process by simply requiring the United States to prove that the immigrant is a Mexican citizen. The immigrant could refuse to cooperate by providing the necessary biographical details or documents to ascertain their Mexican citizenship, or the Mexican government could delay the necessary verifications and issuance of travel documents to allow the Mexican citizen back into the country.
After six months of detention, the US immigration officials would have little choice but to release the immigrants back into the country.
There is also the court avenue where immigrants can assert their rights and overwhelm the immigration courts further exasperating the system.
Additionally, one of the recent memorandums issued by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly outlines a new process whereby asylum seekers would be processed while they wait in México. Previously, asylum seekers would be paroled into the United States while their case is adjudicated. The vast majority of asylum seekers are not Mexican citizens and thus, México is under no obligation to accept them back into México. The memorandum itself recognizes that México must be willing to cooperate for the new directive to work.
Tied together with that is that México has been cooperating with U.S. officials over the last few years to stem the flow of immigrants from México’s southern border. There is no border wall or fence on the Mexican-Guatemalan border much to the chagrin of the right-wing propagandists.
Instead, what México has done, in cooperation with the United States, is to enforce existing immigration laws to intercept and dissuade immigrants from south of its border from trying to reach the United States. This type of cooperation could also be ended by México to make the point that the United States needs México as a friend and not as an adversary.
The immigration route is the most effective way for México to begin countering the antagonism from the Donald Trump administration. It can be deployed in pieces and ramped up as necessary. It would have repercussions for México but it would not be pain free for Donald Trump either.
Trump has been in office for about a month now, and the protests and resistance to his administration has remained strong from U.S. citizens. Immigration tent cities and clogged up immigration court systems would be a constant source of protest material for those opposed to the Trump political agenda.
It is a tool México can deploy almost immediately.